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Overcoming Covid pains: Lessons from 128th Canton Fair

Second virtual edition of the world's largest trade show included business matching events in 37 countries.

The show's Autumn edition engaged new international markets via virtual business matching events hosted in 37 countries.
The show's Autumn edition engaged new international markets via virtual business matching events hosted in 37 countries.

The 128th China Import and Export Fair (Canton Fair) concluded its 10-day virtual affair last month, the Autumn edition of the world's largest trade show an inspiration for event planners keen to execute the physical-to-online pivot.

But this success story didn't come without growing pains.

In its opening ceremony "on the cloud" in Guangzhou on 15 October, the host referenced how the Spring edition of the Canton Fair first moved online in June, marking a first in the show's 63-year history. The 127th Canton Fair went on to attract 150,000 viewers on the first day, but resulted in only three enquires.

To remedy this, the team quickly made tweaks to improve communication between buyers and sellers by hosting a series of online and offline supporting events to boost international trade.

This included 38 virtual business matching events hosted in 37 countries and regions, and six business associations from Africa, Europe and Asia joined Canton Fair Global Cooperative Partnership Program.

"The 128th Canton Fair has initiated a business matchmaking program by building an online communication platform to facilitate global buyers seeking business partnerships in China when offline trade fairs are extremely limited," said Yu Yi, deputy director general of foreign affairs office of Canton Fair.

The virtual business matching events connected nearly 200 buyers from France, Tanzania, UAE and Ukraine, with 16 Canton Fair exhibitors which presented their products ranging from home appliances, building materials, lighting products, textiles to machines and hardware equipment.

The VR exhibition hall, which highlighted products from 2,046 companies, received 163,200 visits.
The VR exhibition hall, which highlighted products from 2,046 companies, received 163,200 visits.

As a mark of its successful pivot to online, the Canton Fair welcomed buyers from an unprecedented 226 countries and regions, with the virtual platform receiving 51.17 million visits, including over 7.89 million visits to the virtual exhibition halls.

More than 26,000 exhibitors representing over 30 countries showcased over 2.47 million products. Among these, 730,000 were new releases launched specifically at the Fair, marking an 21.6% increase from 2019.

This included the use big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, offering an immersive experience to buyers through the use of graphics, videos, 3D and virtual reality (VR) platforms. Customised livestreaming showrooms were also a hit, with 1.89 million people tuning in.

Some positive comments from buyers touched on how the virtual event delivered exceptional user experience — from methods of browsing new products, discovering technologies, learning market insights, to joining an interactive chat session.