Germany: The Trade Fair Capital | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 08.11.2003
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Germany: The Trade Fair Capital

Despite its economic crisis, Germany has maintained its position as the world's premier trade fair location. Though attendance is down, events like CeBit and the Frankfurt Book Fair are still pushing full steam ahead.


Despite a drop in attendance, events like the CeBIT technology fair still remain in Germany

Germany is a country of trade fairs, it's a tradition that has spanned more than 800 years. And there are signs of it everywhere. At the train stations and airports in most major cities here, signs guide visitors to the nearest trade fair center.

With cities like Frankfurt and Leipzig serving as major crossroads to other business centers in Europe, German trade fair organizers have successfully cashed in on the country's central location. The expansion of the trades and also the economic miracle that occurred after World War II all contributed to Germany's establishment as the global leader in trade fairs.

Today, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Hanover, Munich, Cologne, Berlin, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Essen, Leipzig and Hamburg host the world's leading trade fairs in an astonishing number of industry and service sectors.

Global market leader

In fact, two-thirds of the leading international fairs are hosted in Germany. In Cologne, the international food industry gathers each year for the Anuga fair, bicycle manufacturers converge for Ifma, and photo and imaging companies display their latest wares at Photokino. In Berlin, the tourism industry swaps shop secrets at the ITB fair, and consumer electronics-makers swap gizmos and cut deals at the IFA, the world's biggest event of its kind. Frankfurt is home to the world's largest publishing industry event, the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Frankfurter Buchmesse

Isabelle Famira-Parcsetich, an employee of German publishing house Heyne arranges books at their stand at the Frankfurt, Germany bookfair, on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2002. The fair will run from Oct. 9, until Oct. 14, 2002. (AP Photo/Bernd Kammerer)

Other cities have established themselves in the niche fair market. Each year Düsseldorf plays host to companies engaged in all things nautical, with the successful International Boat Show; the Igedo fashion trade fair, which brings together Germany's leading designers; as well as the Medica, the world's largest medical industry convention. Stuttgart and Essen also host numerous trade fairs. Unforgettable, of course, is the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, a city long associated with the holiday season because of its famous annual Christmas market.

10 million visitors

Together, Germany's 140 nationwide trade fairs and exhibitions attract 160,000 exhibitors, who rent a total of 6.5 million square meters of floorspace. They also draw between 9 and 10 million visitors, according to the Berlin-based Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA).That's almost a quarter of the entire European market. The European Association of Trade Fairs (Emeca) estimates that, Europe-wide, 1,000 trade fairs are held each year, drawing about 40 million visitors.

Mercedes CLS IAA mit Thumb

Der Mercedes Vision CLS wird am Dienstag, 9. September 2003, dem ersten Tag der Internationalen Automobilausstellung IAA in Frankfurt enthuellt. Die 60. IAA oeffnet ihre Tore fuer die Oeffentlichkeit vom 13. bis 21. September 2003. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) ----A Mercedes Vision CLS is being unveiled on the first day of the International Auto Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany, on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2003. The 60th IAA opens its doors to the public Sept. 13 through Sept. 21, 2003. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Among them is Frankfurt's International Motor Show, which has an enormous influence on the auto market. On average, about 1 million visitors stroll through the stands of the fair's 1,100 exhibitors. Berlin's tourism fair, ITB, meanwhile, drew 10,000 exhibitors in 2002 and 122,000 visitors. Hanover's CeBit IT fair drew a massive 673,000 visitors to its 400,000 square meters of exhibition space in 2002. It's figures like that which put Germany in the trade fair pole position.

The fairs also draw scores of visitors from other countries. For the first time ever, according to AUMA, in 2002 at least 20 percent of all visitors to German trade fairs were foreigners, mostly from other European countries. They come to Germany because massive trade fairs are fewer and far between in Europe and abroad.

But some cities do compete successfully against the German market. Milan is well known for its fashion trade fair and for its metals industry fair, EMO, which is hosted alternating years by the Italian industrial center and Hanover. A number of successful specialist fairs are also held in Birmingham, England, and Barcelona. Paris is renowned for its Prêt-a-porter fashion shows as well as the International Air and Space Show. Automobile fairs in Detroit, Geneva and Tokyo are also international draws. But even industrial giants like the United States and Japan have few trade fairs that serve as international magnets like those in Germany, a shortcoming shared by European capitals like Rome, Madrid, Moscow, Vienna and Brussels.

Cruising through the crisis

Logo Internet World in Berlin

Internet World Messe in Berlin vom 4. bis 6. Uni 2002

Still, in the time of one of the worst economic crises Germany has experienced since World War II, the trade fair industry isn't without its problems. In 2002, the number of people who visited CeBit, the world's largest computer fair, dropped by 20 percent. Berlin suspended its Internet World fair after the number of exhibitors in 2002 fell by 30 percent. The city also cancelled its 2002 Auto Fair AAA after failing to attract enough car-makers.

Most fairs fared considerably better. Overall in Germany, the number of exhibitors at major trade fairs fell by 2 percent and the number of visitors by 5 percent, according to AUMA statistics. The worst may be yet to come. A recent survey by pollster Emnid found that 23 percent of 500 German companies that currently exhibit are considering plans to reduce their trade fair presence. Only 12 percent of the companies polled said they planned to increase their trade fair activities.

Still, there have been some success stories in the midst of the slumbering economy. Berlin's recent Venus fair for the adult entertainment industry attracted 300 exhibitors from 21 countries making it "not only the most lucrative, but also the most international erotic fair in the world," the Financial Times Deutschland recently reported. The service sector is also experiencing growth. In 2001, the amount of space rented out at services exhibitions grew by 5.9 percent and the number of exhibitors by 13.2 percent.

Industry experts say, however, that, stagnant economy aside, there are few threats to Germany's international dominance in the trade fairs.

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