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Business

Trade-Fair Know-How Is Hot German Export

German manufacturers aren't the only ones fighting to boost exports. Trade fairs are increasingly moving overseas, and insiders say it's a win-win situation.

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Germany is the world leader in trade fairs

Germany has long been known as a country of trade fairs. Two thirds of the world's leading trade fairs are held in the country, including big-name events like the CeBIT digital solutions fair in Hanover, the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, and the Anuga Food Fair in Cologne.

But the number of fairs held in Germany has hovered steadily around 150 over the past five years, and overall visitor counts have dropped off slightly, along with revenues.

Yet if the homegrown market is stagnant, Asia, eastern Europe and certain parts of the Middle East are exploding, offering new growth opportunities to well-established German companies.

"Ten to 20 new trade fairs overseas are added each year, with no sign of slowing down" over the past five years or so, said Marco Spinger, head of global marketing at the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry, or AUMA.
Photokina in Köln 2004

Photokina, in Cologne, draws the photography world

Exporting a trade fair "isn't as simple as just picking up an entire fair, booths and all, and moving it to another country," Spinger said. Rather, the idea is to capitalize on the brand names and know-how German trade fair companies have developed over the years and mold it to fit local needs.


Düsseldorf fashion, Munich high tech

Most of the exports are done via subsidiaries or joint ventures in other countries. Thus, electronics junkies who may have missed CeBIT in Germany -- or couldn't afford the passage to Hanover -- can find one in Australia or Turkey. The Messe Düsseldorf trade fair boasts 12 subsidiaries and 65 representatives across the globe; its longstanding presence in the Russian market has given it a strong foothold there and made it one of the most successful foreign companies in that country. The Frankfurt fair has built up strong ties with China, holding automotive and textile fairs there.

AUMA designates these exported German events as "GQT", or "German Quality Trade" fairs. The exports tend to represent the strengths of what the companies do at home, Spinger said. So Düsseldorf will export its know-how and contacts in medicine and fashion, while Cologne may push the food industry (in Thailand, for instance,) and Munich brings high-tech to Shanghai.

The hottest expansion spots appear to be Dubai, China, and Russia, but any place where there is a need, and funding, to tap 50 years of German experience will do. Even the US is a prime ground for exports -- 11 German trade fairs are slated to cross the Atlantic in 2006.

Bildgalerie IAA 2005 VW und Skoda

Frankfurt's International Auto Show IAA

The export growth took off around 2000, when Europe's economy ground into decline, according to AUMA's Spinger. In 2005 Germans organized 172 fairs abroad, which accounted for 1.1 million square meters (3.6 million square feet) of a total worldwide 9.2 million -- a full 12 percent of all German exhibition space.


Good for smaller businesses

While there are winners all around in the booming trade fair market, the biggest gainers in Germany appear to be the midsize companies that form the backbone of the economy.

"Having German fairs abroad give smaller firms the chance to go directly to their clients overseas," Spinger explained. "They don't have to go through some other American or Arab exhibitor. They can join up with a group project here or be part of a German pavilion. They don't have to do all the work themselves."

ArtForum in Berlin

ArtForum Berlin

Despite the rosy numbers, observers have expressed concern about the effect overseas growth could have on German trade fairs. After all, more than half of the people who come to Germany to meet, greet and trade orders come from abroad. Won't the fairs taking place in their own backyards cut into the number of visitors who would want to make the trek to Leipzig or Nuremberg to do the same thing?


Numbers still high

On the contrary, exhibit organizers say.

"We aren't cannibalizing ourselves by doing business this way," said Stephan Kurzawski, vice president for business development at the Messe Frankfurt trade fair. "Our foreign trade fairs actually end up being marketing campaigns for Frankfurt. If we do an auto mechanics fair in Argentina, for example, we notice a definite rise in Argentine attendance at our fairs -- both as exhibitors and as visitors."

CES Messe Las Vegas Toshiba

German firms seem to have figured out what visitors want

Thomas Kötter, a PR representative for the Messe Düsseldorf, agreed. "The overseas trade fairs tend to be much smaller. So after our exhibitors at the Medica in China have had success and filled their order books at a smaller fair, we tell them, 'You've experienced this version, but if you really want to be at the center of the entire medical world, it is in Düsseldorf.' They come; the numbers bear that out." Kötter said he can't imagine that Germany will be rendered obsolete by competition from overseas in the near or distant future. "We have over 50 years of experience in building trade shows … we know how to set up the stands, how to do it so people are happy, so their information gets distributed, so they make sales. …We've studied this, worked on it. They don't have that experience."









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