RISING STARS: Well-known exhibition centres in the Asia/Pacific region face stiff competition from venues that are springing up in the area's emerging markets. Dave Saunders surveys the new contenders

Major players on the Asia/Pacific exhibition circuit include

Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne. Yet the region is evolving

with several new exhibition centres emerging. Some promise to have a

huge impact on the region, while others may only appeal to small, niche


The Shanghai International Expo Centre at Pudong, which opened in

September to host the 2001 APEC Organisation meeting, is already

attracting considerable interest. With facilities to rival the giants,

Shanghai is set to boost exhibition activity in China as well as provide

stiff competition to the region's established centres.

Beijing, as the capital of the world's largest expanding market, is also

having considerable success based on sound economic forces.

'China is fast developing its venues to become a global exhibition

destination,' says James Papineau, deputy general manager sales &

marketing, Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre

(SICEC). 'When it is admitted to the World Trade Organisation, more

countries and companies will target China.'

Smaller, poorer economies are also trying to tap into the exhibition

market. One such area is Nepal, which boasts new hotel and exhibition

facilities. But the country is only likely to attract exhibition

organisers from businesses with interests related to Nepal, such as

textiles and adventure travel, as well as to companies where the

location will attract a following, without being tied to the


'There's a mystique and romance to Nepal that people find irresistible,'

says Martin van Kan, general manager of the recently opened Hyatt

Regency in the country's capital Kathmandu. 'This is one of the poorest

and least developed countries in the world, but travellers can now feel

assured of good facilities and a comfortable haven of sophistication,

along with an array of amazing trips and tours.'

Birenda International Conference Centre is a well-equipped venue in the

capital with a 318sq m exhibition hall. And the established five-star

Yak & Yeti Hotel opened a high-tech conference and exhibition wing in

autumn 2000. In the country's second biggest city, Pokhara, the Fulbari

Resort combines a luxury venue with facilities for exhibitions,

conventions and banquets in the heart of the Annapurna mountain


Spectacular opportunities

Organisers are drawn to Nepal as much for its culture and recreation as

its facilities. Flights past Everest, trekking, rafting and elephant

safaris provide spectacular pre- and post-show opportunities.

Small, specialised markets, such as Nepal, offer a unique and memorable

experience for exhibitors, yet will never compete with centres such as

Melbourne and Sydney, where trade and industry are on a completely

different scale.

The 2000 Olympics boosted interest in Australia in general and Sydney in

particular, with corresponding upgrading of facilities. Sydney

Convention and Exhibition Centre (SCEC) undertook an Adollars 57m

(pounds 19.5m) expansion in 1999, which incorporated 2,200sq m of

exhibition space. During the Games, five exhibition halls were converted

into stadiums seating up to 10,000 to host five sports, making it the

fifth largest venue in Olympic history.

'International bookings in the post-Olympic period are strong and we

have won many major bids for medical-related conferences,' says SCEC

general manager Ton van Amerongen. 'It has the most advanced

technological facilities in any exhibition centre in Australia and so is

increasingly winning major computer and IT events, such as the Siebel

Systems E-Business World Conference for 1,500 delegates in August


SCEC has 27,200sq m of exhibition space, including five column-less

halls, each of 5,000sq m, with 10m ceilings. It is close to the city's

central business district and Darling Harbour, making it well placed to

host the Australian Motor Show each October and November, and the

country's biggest boat show from July to August. In February 2001 the

venue held the largest Gift Ware Show ever. The show, organised by Reed

Exhibitions, featured 730 exhibitors and occupied six exhibition halls

and the promenade area.

'The Asia/Pacific region is in growth mode with low unemployment, low

inflation and low interest rates. Also, the exchange rate makes

Australia the best value exhibition and convention destination in the

world,' says Sue Marsh from the SCEC's press office.

The biggest exhibition space in Australia, however, is Melbourne

Exhibition and Convention Centre (MECC), which has 30,000sq m of

uninterrupted space on a single floor.

'The centre is renowned for its flexibility,' says MECC director of

sales and marketing Petrina Gillespie. 'This applies to the buildings,

but it also refers to our staff who take a proactive approach when

dealing with clients.'

Hassle-free venue

Stage two of an Adollars 26m (pounds 8.9m) upgrade of the MECC was

completed this spring. 'Everything is hassle-free,' says John Kelly,

organiser of the Wine Australia show. 'Good access, power supplies and

convenient loading bays means we save at least two days' setting-up


And in June 2001 the MECC will host the UK's Good Food Show when it

comes to Australia for the first time.

Singapore is one of Asia's major transportation hubs and has long been

an important centre for trade and exhibitions. It hosts more exhibitions

than any other venue in the Asia/Pacific region. SICEC offers close to

35,000sq m of exhibition space, with 12,000sq m of column-free space in

a single hall.

In a major marketing move, ten local partners signed a Memorandum of

Understanding last month to pool their resources on a joint advertising

campaign targeted at the global conventions and exhibitions market.

SICEC has also recently appointed the Convention Partnership in London

to be its European sales and marketing representative. 'In marketing to

the international convention and exhibition markets it takes a concerted

effort by industry partners such as venues, hotels, local associations,

attractions, airlines and tourist boards to be successful,' says SICEC's


'New exhibition centres can be built with all the accompanying

state-of-the-art facilities, but it is really the destination that sells


Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) is the largest

multi-purpose facility in Asia, with exhibition, convention, meeting and

banqueting facilities under one roof. The entire complex totals

246,000sq m, with 64,000sq m of exhibition space attracting 100 major

exhibitions last year.

Major exhibitions in 2001 include Asia Pacific Leather Fair in March and

April, International Computer Expo in May and Hong Kong International

E-commerce 2001 in July. A HKdollars 10m (pounds 893,000) investment in

telecoms technology was completed in April 2001.

'Exhibitors choose to exhibit in a trade or consumer fair for one reason

- to sell their products or services,' says HKCEC managing director

Cliff Wallace. 'Exhibitors go where visitors attend and purchase. Those

who travel the greatest distance, such as from Europe to Hong Kong, are

simply coming because they have experienced that success or believe that

potential business is here.

'Success has nothing to do with the uniqueness of a location. A lot of

people build exhibition halls because they have a great city, but that

doesn't have much to do with successful exhibition centres. Some

consultants offer poor advice to justify the building of an exhibition

venue. This keeps them employed and massages the city's ego.

'Many Asian exhibition centres are dependent on major subsidies.

Mainland China is building exhibition and conference centres like

they're the answer to the next economic boom. But they will suffer great

problems because they are not always based on sound reasoning.

Conversely, Shanghai and Beijing have every opportunity for success

because they are in a proven major market.

'Places like Nepal work wonderfully for the meetings industry, but my

gut tells me it's not a good exhibition market. They need to have a

clear vision, given all the considerations of that market.

White elephant

'In Hong Kong, we tend to exhibit what we export - gifts, houseware,

jewellery. Emerging exhibition centres should be careful not to compete

with large established shows. If they get caught up in the hype, they'll

find themselves with a white elephant they have to subsidise even to pay

the light bill.

'Hong Kong's greatest competitor is Shanghai. It is a real emerging

market that will provide tough competition. We'll have to tailor

ourselves more for the Asian market, rather than promoting ourselves as

a gateway into China. They are going to keep us on our toes.'

Philippines Convention and Visitors Corporation deputy executive

director conventions Rosvi Gaetos endorses many of Wallace's views: 'I

consider Shanghai the most promising emerging exhibition venue in the

Asia/Pacific region. It has the facilities and is set to become another

Hong Kong.

The Shanghai government, which fully supports local tourism, spearheaded

the venue's construction.

'I believe the success of an exhibition destination is not only a matter

of marketing. The amount of economic activity in that destination is

critical in attracting exhibitions as well as the extent of government

and private sector support,' Gaetos concludes.

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