Organizers of Asia’s trade fairs are optimistic that this autumn’s events will be successful, but all have one overriding concern — the impact of SARS on the confidence of exhibitors and visitors alike. Though last week, the World Health Organization lifted the travel advisory against nonessential travel to Hong Kong, the announcement did not come in time to prevent the cancellation of the already-once-rescheduled Asian Pacific Leather Fair. As reported, exhibitors who planned to show at the rescheduled APLF, which was to have been held June 26-28, were being given options of refunds for the canceled fair or transferring their payment to the October or 2004 APLF, to be held in March. Would-be exhibitors also can get product information and photographs from a new online product directory at aplf.com.

SARS has impacted other shows, as well. In March, visitors shied away from Interstoff Asia. Only 6,966 buyers turned up at that event, a 25 percent decrease from last year. But the Hong Kong Trade Development Council insists that its trade fairs, including Hong Kong Fashion Week in July, will go ahead as scheduled. So will June’s two jewelry and watch fairs, which, like the canceled APLF, are organized by CMP Asia.

Indeed, Hong Kong’s biggest annual trade show went ahead during the last week of April, with predictably disappointing results. The Gift & Premium Fair was combined with the Hong Kong Houseware Fair and drew only 460 exhibitors — a 90 percent drop from the previous year. The HKTDC, which organizes the event, gave exhibitors the option of attending the April show, joining the newly added July show, attending both or canceling altogether. So far, more than 3,600 companies have signed up for the July edition — an indication that the situation is improving.

Nonetheless, at press time the WHO had left in place its advisories against travel to Taiwan, Beijing and four Chinese provinces, and all passengers arriving to, departing from or transiting through Chep Lap Kok will have their temperatures taken in an effort to screen possible SARS cases. (A high fever is an early symptom of the disease.)

Once in the city, including at the Convention Centre, there are other safety measures in place. Hotels, restaurants and public facilities have all been scrubbed clean and are regularly disinfected. Anne Chick, senior exhibitions manager for the TDC, said the health measures at the Convention Centre are comprehensive and intended to help reassure exhibitors and buyers. “We have face masks and hand wipes for anyone who wants them. There are infrared thermometers for taking temperatures and even doctors are available on-site. We also have pamphlets on the disease and its prevention. Plus, the Convention Centre has stepped up its cleaning,” she said, noting that it is already a large, airy space and no one who has attended an event there has become ill with SARS.From July 8-12, the HKTDC will host Hong Kong Fashion Week at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. This is an interesting time for Hong Kong Fashion Week, as many cities in the region are vying to make their fashion fairs the most important in Asia, especially in the run-up to 2005 when trade quotas are lifted. So far, Hong Kong’s remains key, primarily because it does not rely solely on domestic buyers, as is the case in Bangkok, Manila and Seoul. Indeed, Hong Kong Fashion Week has been a steadily growing fair over the last few years and only SARS has led organizers to revise their estimations for the upcoming edition. Said Chick, “Without SARS, the number of exhibitors might have been over 700.” As it stands, visitors can expect to find more than 470 manufacturers from 11 countries and regions.

The fair will be divided into three major sections: Fashion Gallery, featuring high-end fashion and brand names; International Fashion Designers Showcase, comprising designer labels from all over the world, and Garment and Accessories Mart, showing fashion and clothing accessories. There also will be seminars on fashion and color trends and important runway shows, chief among them the awards for Hong Kong New Fashion Collections, the Korean Fashion Designers Show and the International Fashion Designer Shows. The dates for those shows have not yet been confirmed.

September will bring a big opportunity for leather buyers headed to China, when three shows take place simultaneously. Moda Shanghai, the China International Footwear Fair and the All China Leather Exhibition will be held at the Shanghai New International Expo Center Sept. 3-5. The ACLE will focus on the raw materials and manufacturing side of the industry, while CIFF is a first-time event that will provide footwear suppliers and buyers the chance to see all kinds of shoes from Chinese, Asian and international manufacturers. Among those confirmed to take part are China’s Wenzhou Fapai Fapashoes Co., Kangai Group Co. and Qingdao Hengda Group Co. A separate section will showcase international brands looking to break into the Mainland market. Moda Shanghai will feature leather garments, accessories, handbags and travel goods.

The only question about the three-in-one fair is whether it will take place at all. If SARS spreads to Shanghai (to date, there have only been seven confirmed cases in the city), plans may be altered. “So far, it seems there hasn’t been any interruption to business in China,” commented Perrine Ardoin, senior event manager for CIFF, “but we’ll have to see how things are closer to the time.”Katy Lam, general manager of trade fairs for Messe Frankfurt, which organizes Interstoff Asia, is also keeping a close eye on the spread of SARS. She expects that by October, when Interstoff Asia Autumn is held, the situation will be improved. In fact, she is now more worried about the U.S. economy. “I actually think that our business won’t be too bad — especially if the U.S. economy really starts to pick up and the demand on textiles increases,” she said.

Interstoff Asia will take place at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre Oct. 7-9 and will have a Functional Fabrics feature pavilion. The pavilion is expected to boast participation from the Taiwan Textile Federation and the Korea Fashion Textile Association. Both Taiwan and Korea are looking to push their technical fabrics in an effort to compete with China come 2005. Apart from the feature pavilion, there will be about 350 exhibitors showing all kinds of fabrics and textiles for ladies’, men’s and children’s wear, as well as lingerie.

The following week many of the same exhibitors will be found at Intertextile Shanghai, taking place at the Shanghai New International Expo Center Oct. 14-16. Said Lam, “Last year we had almost 800 exhibitors and we had planned on 30 percent growth. We had four full halls last time and this year we will have five full halls plus a temporary hall. But it’s early to predict what will happen.” Thirty-eight thousand visitors attended the last edition. The fall show will have all kinds of textile suppliers, plus trend forecasts and a special focus on home textiles. Seminars, conducted in Mandarin, will be targeted to the domestic audience.

Finally, the APLF will hold its Fashion and Finished Products show Oct. 6-8 at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. The fair will feature Top Style Hall, which showcases high-end and designer brands mostly from Italy, Spain and Turkey. Most Asian manufacturers of footwear, handbags, accessories and small leather goods, will be located in the main hall. Between the two sectors, look out for a trend showcase put together by the Spanish footwear producers. Also of interest this autumn will be the increased presence of South American — particularly Argentine and Brazilian — manufacturers.Exhibitors should be assured that security will be tight. Guards will be on the lookout for anyone taking photographs of products via watches, cell phones or cameras. Organizers say lawyers also will be present at the exhibition to deal with any exhibitor concerns.

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