Surfing a wave in China

2018 has been a stellar year for Messe Muenchen Shanghai as visitor figures have risen in all the key sectors. CEO Edwin Tan, who is a trade fair expert and Asia specialist, talks about what makes the fast-moving Chinese event industry so exciting, where growth is coming from, and the firm’s ambitious plans for future growth

By Vicki Sussens

Edwin Tan, CEO of Messe Muenchen Shanghai, talks about the future of the firm’s Greater China business.

China is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world with a big thirst for cutting-edge technology. Edwin Tan joined Messe Muenchen Shanghai as CEO in March 2017. He says: “With its huge consumer market, no global company can avoid China.”

Tan, who has spent many years implementing international strategies in the Chinese event industry, has witnessed the Chinese trade fair maturing into what he calls the “true definition of an exhibition”: a trading platform. “Western firms used to attend Chinese fairs only to sell. Now, they are also looking to buy.”

Edwin Tan, © bakaspictures

Edwin Tan, is a trade fair expert and Asia specialist who joined Messe Muenchen Shanghai as CEO in March 2017.

In another change, foreign exhibitors are using trade fairs to develop distribution networks and after-sales services so they can access less important parts of China. He predicts a bigger change: “Trade fairs in China are currently extensions of Munich fairs. But China is leapfrogging other countries in many sectors, so we can expect to see ‘mother’ exhibitions in China in the near future.”

In the meantime, Messe München’s presence in China is adding square footage to Munich as Chinese participation grows. “More importantly, we have organized groups of key buyers to go to Munich. And Chinese government officials, through our office in Shanghai, have also made several trips to boost trade.”

Ambitious growth strategy

All this makes the Chinese event industry very exciting for Tan, who thrives on driving new initiatives. Under his former leadership as COO of Reed Exhibitions Greater China, a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest event companies, the firm achieved record sales. Now, he is driving an ambitious growth strategy for Messe München in China.

China is Messe München’s largest area of operation. It’s also the only location where it runs another exhibition center, the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC), together with three German event organizers. SNIEC is the most successful exhibition venue in the world.

The move into China 15 years ago was a major part of the Munich firm’s internationalization strategy. It is paying off. “With government initiatives to boost the economy beginning to impact, exhibitions as a platform for exchanging ideas, trading, sourcing, and partnership will continue to flourish.”

“Made in China 2025” is already turning China into a manufacturing power, and “Internet Plus” aims at rebooting the decelerating economy through digitization, and the trillion-dollar New Silk Road is reviving trade routes from China to Europe—a prospect that has the logistics industry in a state of euphoria. “These moves, together with a stable Chinese currency, IPR protection, and a strong legal framework, are boosting trade and thus giving our exhibitions more traction,” reports Tan.

Booming industries

And indeed, 2018 has been a stellar year for Messe Muenchen Shanghai as industries boom in all key sectors. For example, stricter environmental policies have led to a huge demand for high-quality environmental technologies and solutions. This was reflected in record figures for Messe München’s IE expo China 2018, which saw a 21 percent increase in visitor figures, a 28 percent increase in exhibition space, and a record 400 supporting events.

The laser industry is also thriving thanks to the focus of “Made in China” on intelligent manufacturing. This has led to a growing demand for optical- and photonics technology, reflected in the record 55,872 visitors to Laser World of Photonics China 2018.

Edwin Tan, © bakaspictures

Edwin Tan is driving an ambitious growth strategy for Messe München in China. For good reason: China is Messe München’s largest area of operation.

“We can predict in which direction Chinese enterprises are developing,” Edwin Tan

According to Tan, Messe München is well placed to ride the wave of these booming new industries because of its deep sector knowledge in some of the hottest markets: automation, electronics, construction, sports, the environment, building materials, and transportation logistics. “This means we know the latest trends and can predict in which direction Chinese enterprises are developing,” says Tan.

New conferences and exhibitions

Currently, Messe München ranks seventh in China in terms of square footage per year and Tan wants to see it ranking within the top five within the next ten years. Growth will come from expanding the main sectors to various parts of China and extending the portfolio throughout Asia. At the same time, more conferences and exhibitions will be added to complete the value chain for each sector.

New fairs to be introduced include: LEAP, a complete electronics production and automated factory exhibition in October 2018 in Shenzhen; Labtechnica, a cleanroom and laboratory technology exhibition in Shanghai in November 2019; and Machine Vision—new events in 2019 in Beijing and Shenzhen.

In the meantime, the subsidiary is digitalizing: “In the last year, we’ve implemented software to better conduct sales and monitor the health of our exhibitions through the sales cycle. And we are currently finalizing software for better visitor management.” Asked what his main focus is now, he answers: “All of the above!” And then he gives a satisfied chuckle.