China expos leading digital change

Rapid roll-out of tech solutions for business events pioneered by organisers of the Canton Fair and China's tech giants, says study by EAC Consulting in Shanghai

DIGITAL change in China’s business events is being accelerated as the industry meets the challenges of the coronavirus era with intelligent venues and virtual trade fairs among initiatives being rapidly developed, according to a new study.

Market changes brought on by Covid-19 are also set to see more M&A activity as investors look to exhibition companies and suppliers who have made strides in integrating digital technologies, according to the report by the Shanghai office of EAC Consulting.

Recent events seen as landmarks in this new digital era include the Canton Fair – the “barometer” of China’s import-export activity – announcing that its show in June will integrate online exhibition and communication platforms, a cross-border e-commerce zone and live broadcast marketing services.

Two more recent industry-changing events cited in the report come from 31 Event, a Chinese MICE technical provider, which launched a series of “full-scene digital exhibition platform products… through WeChat platform, covering technical support before, during and after the event”.

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Online-retail giant Alibaba’s announcement in April to help foreign companies build online showrooms and provide statistical reports, sales leads and more is also seen as pivotal.

“A global pandemic is striking the MICE industry worldwide in 2020. Nevertheless, the Chinese exhibition industry has shown a great variety of attempts and efforts on digitalisation as a countermeasure” to lead industry change in the for post-Covid era,” the EAC report states.

Organisers that are “already equipped with well-developed online promotion systems will take a better competitive position in this new round of ‘digital revolution’ in China.

Events to get ‘phys-gital’

The report advises organisers to ensure their companies are “technically and organisationally well prepared to meet the changes and the needs of digital support. Initiation of partnerships with domestic players with expertise in digital… as well as M&A initiatives can provide ‘jump-start’ for leading organisers.”

Companies were also urged to review marketing strategies with a focus on finding appropriate channels of sales and brand promotion.

On mergers and buyouts across the market, digital and organisational change can result in more M&A opportunities, according to the report.

EAC added that the “digital roll-out of exhibitions” also brought challenges, including:

  • Trustworthiness – Limited visual experience and incomplete information display can restrict the experience for tradeshow visitors. “Seeing is Believing” is still a challenge in the virtual world.
  • Interaction: Less in-person communication can lead to ineffective outcomes. “Exhibition participants are more inclined to spontaneous networking and social contact, which can only be realised face-to-face.”
  • Operation: How to find a reliable technical provider becomes crucial in ensuring a well-run and sustainable online event that avoids a negative customer experience.
  • Venues: Traditional exhibition venues are far from capable of becoming a “digital platform”. Integrating and leading changes to traditional exhibition industry models will be one of the unique competitive factors among leading venues in the future.
  • Security: Data protection and IT security is always a critical issue as venues become more digital and data-intensive in parallel, especially regarding cross-border businesses.

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