Asia Pacific's rebound lies in lifting Covid restrictions

Hong Kong’s Covid strategy could impact significantly on recovery of the region's exhibitions industry, says UFI.

Prospects for exhibition events within Asia Pacific vary widely, with Hong Kong potentially facing the toughest outlook yet, according to the latest UFI Global Barometer.

The bi-annual Barometer, the latest of which was released last week, assesses the development and outlook of the global exhibition industry and includes profiles for 29 markets and regions. Globally, the industry expects two-thirds of markets to operate at normal levels in the second quarter, and one-quarter of the global market to operate at reduced activity levels, indicating a strong belief that the sector, primarily driven by physical exhibitions and business events, will bounce back quickly.

Data for the Asia-Pacific region shows that Japan appears to be less severely hit than other countries during the second half of 2021, with only Australia, India and Malaysia expecting to return to normal activity levels during the first half of 2022.

Kai Hatterndorf, managing director and CEO of UFI said the situation in Asia is so different due to a number of reasons, key amongst these being government approaches to managing the pandemic. He cited examples of some markets getting back on track, such as Thailand with its ‘Test and Go’ programme which allows vaccinated visitors (mostly) restriction-free entry to the country, and added that Vietnam, Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore are also all headed in the right direction.

Within Asia, however, Hatterndorf pointed to Hong Kong facing the most difficult outlook in 2022 owing to the recent Omicron outbreak, which has seen a huge surge in cases per day. 

“The Hong Kong government remains committed to its closed border, Covid-zero strategy,” he said. “This means that Hong Kong will likely lose a third straight year of business events in 2022. The long-term impact for events in Hong Kong will be significant.”

Major exhibitions, Hatterndorf added, have already ‘temporarily’ been relocated from Hong Kong to Singapore and Dubai, citing the example of international cosmetics fair Cosmoprof Asia 2022. It announced last week that it will now take place in Singapore from 16-18 November, having originally been scheduled to take place over the same dates at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

“Some of these events may never return and it is unclear if those events that do restart (likely in 2023) are able to attract the same number and quality of exhibitors and visitors,” said Hattendorf. “Covid has permanently reshaped the exhibition landscape in Hong Kong.”

Overall however, Hattendorf says that the Barometer results are encouraging, notwithstanding the variations from one region to another, due to the local situations and rules in place. The top three elements that would most help towards the ‘bounce-back’ of exhibitions were identified as follows: seven in ten companies (70%) surveyed said ‘Lifting of current travel restrictions’, while five in ten selected (54%) said ‘readiness of exhibiting companies and visitors to participate again’ and 48% cited ‘mid-term visibility in terms of public policies, including travel restrictions”.

Within Asia Pacific, lifting of current travel restrictions was identified by 82% as the top element, followed by mid-term visibility in terms of public policies, including travel restrictions (55%) and the lifting of current public policies that apply locally to exhibitions (53%). 

“There is every rational reason for our sector to bounce back quickly and very significantly: many companies need events to discuss and share innovation, sell their services and products and simply feel the human touch and benefit from the serendipity asset of “face to face events”, “ said Hattendorf.

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