Although at press time Australia was considered SARS-free — with some cases reported but all since recovered, and no local transmission — the epidemic has nevertheless exacted some toll on the local trade-show sector.

According to a recent report by the Westpac Bank, SARS could reduce Australia’s economic growth this year by 0.3 percent. The travel industry is likely to be the hardest hit, with arrivals estimated to fall by 1.7 percent this year and outbound travel by 2 percent, compared with a pre-SARS forecast of a 0.8 percent rise. A separate survey by the State Chamber of Commerce found that 15 percent of businesses were facing losses of up to $32,973 as a result of SARS, with 10 percent facing losses of up to $659,419 — notably those businesses exporting to Asia.

If insurance fails to adequately cover losses, Melbourne-based Australian Exhibition Services could find itself in the latter basket. On May 6, the company announced it would be canceling this year’s IMPEX event, scheduled to run June 3-5 at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre.

An annual umbrella event embracing three industry shows spanning more than 9,000 square feet of exhibition space — TCF International, Gift & Homeware International and Furniture & Interiors International — IMPEX reports exhibition revenues of $659,419. Established in 1996, the volume end-focused TCF International is touted as Australia’s largest international exhibition for the textile, clothing, footwear and fashion accessories industries, attracting 300 exhibitors from 20 countries and 7,000 buyers and delegates from 15 countries. Asian exhibitors account for 75 percent of the exhibition, with China accounting for 60 percent of that Asian exhibitor block.

When AES was faced with a 50 percent exhibitor drop-off for the June show because of SARS, the company was forced to cancel. On Nov. 18-20, AES’ parent company, the Portland, Maine-based Diversified Business Communications, is rolling out the three-show IMPEX concept for the first time to another market: ironically, Toronto, Canada. At press time the company was still going ahead with the Canadian show, taking many of the Australian and European exhibitors who normally show in Melbourne with them.

Although IMPEX was, according to AES managing director Graeme Selby, “uniquely vulnerable,” it is, he said, the only major Australian trade event he is aware of that has been canceled thus far because of SARS.Coincidentally also the president of the Exhibition and Events Association of Australia, Selby said the impact of SARS on the Australian exhibition industry is negligible. Most shows in Australia don’t yet have an overwhelming proportion of Asian exhibitors or international delegates. Some show organizers may even experience a bump in attendance as a result of the SARS crisis, said Selby — citing one conference originally scheduled to take place in Hong Kong, which was recently rescheduled for Melbourne. Noted Selby, “Australia is seen as a safe haven, a safe destination — both in terms of the SARS issue and also in economic stability, Australia has a very good image.”

Mercedes Australian Fashion Week organizers say they had approximately 12 last-minute cancellations from key European and Asian delegates citing SARS concerns before the MAFW spring-summer 2002-2003 show, which ran May 5-8 in Sydney. One Hong Kong delegation, in fact, experienced one of their best Sydney seasons in terms of sales and publicity, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Apart from the mandatory temperature checks required of all outgoing Hong Kong passengers, the delegation not only organized its own health certificates before leaving Hong Kong, they also arranged for additional medical checks upon arrival in Sydney. Designer Pacino Wan even displayed his health certificate on his MAFW show stand.

Turning the SARS situation around to a publicity vantage moreover, eveningwear designer Dorian Ho took a gamble in sending two models down the runway in beaded SARS masks to match his beaded evening gowns. The risk paid off: His pictures traveled around the world.

“Before we came, we were actually very worried that we would be not so much boycotted, but that people would stay away,” said HKTDC manager of fashion services Patrick Chan. “What happened in Switzerland was really a shock [when Swiss health authorities placed a last-minute ban on a 300-strong delegation from Hong Kong at the Basel World Watch and Jewellery fair in April this year]. But we know what to do now. That’s why we took all the necessary steps to allay any fears. We are very welcome here, so that is good.”

Australia’s largest fashion trade event, the midmarket-aimed Fashion Exposed, which is held twice a year in Melbourne, started taking bookings for its upcoming September show on May 14 and at press time had already sold close to 80 percent of the floor plan — 45,000 square feet, up 20 percent from the size of last winter’s fair. “Demand for space is very strong,” said Tammy Walshe, project manager, Fashion Exposed. “We’ve actually had a number of calls from overseas from exhibitors who obviously need to expand beyond their own markets.”Reed Exhibitions, which organizes biannual Gift Trade Fairs in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, believes its next six months’ worth of shows may see a SARS-related spike in attendance, in particular, the July show in Brisbane, which will be Reed’s first Gift Fair since the SARS outbreak. Accessories, fashion jewelry and beauty account for 15 percent of the exhibitions, and that percentage is growing.

“We actually believe that SARS will have a positive effect on the Brisbane Gift Fair; the reason being that a lot of our buyers would normally travel overseas, particularly to Asia, in order to do buying,” said Debbie Evans, Reed Gift Exhibition Director, adding that Reed is considering installing health check facilities on site for anyone who may have just traveled from SARS hot spots. It’s possible that the Melbourne fair in August may also see improved business.”

L’Oréal New Zealand Fashion Week organizers say it’s too early to tell what impact SARS will have on their third annual show, which runs Oct. 19-23 in Auckland. “We would like to think the SARS issue will have moved on by October; however, we aren’t fortune tellers,” said event spokesperson Cathy Campbell.

Organizers say they had a positive response from Asian buyers and media to their LNZFW stand at the new World Boutique event in Hong Kong in January — with some HK manufacturers even inquiring about exhibiting in Auckland. The World Boutique stand was part of an international marketing campaign launched since last October’s LNZFW, which also has included a New Zealand government-sponsored fashion presentation in New York in February, an LNZFW stand at the Designers & Agents Week in Los Angeles in March and in late April, another NZ designer showcase in London.

Improvements made to this year’s show include an extra day of runway shows, 2,100 square feet of exhibition space, which will house 50 exhibitors (compared with 2002’s 35) and bigger catwalk seating capacity in the exhibition marquee to encourage more foot traffic.

Although still in its infancy, LNZFW 2002 managed to attract a handful of northern hemisphere retailers, including London’s Selfridges, House of Fraser and Question Air and Miami boutique Foxy Lady. The lion’s share of the buyers nevertheless came from Australia, which accounts for 70 percent of New Zealand fashion exports, according to Trade New Zealand.Up-and-coming Auckland handbag manufacturer Roanne Jacobsen says she will be back this year with her Saben brand with, at the very least, another trade fair stand and possibly even her own runway show. Considering one of the highlights in Sydney in May was a shoe show — the Terry Biviano spectacular, produced by Baz Luhrmann collaborators Tony Assness and Anton Monsted — a handbag show may not be as implausible as it sounds. Saben currently boasts 50 accounts in New Zealand, Australia and Denmark and, according to Jacobsen, her production has increased 150 percent during the past 12 months. How much of that she can attribute to LNZFW, it’s hard to tell, she says — although the exposure certainly can’t hurt.

“My experience is that you get out of these events what you put into them — certainly I generated a lot of press in the last three months of 2002, but then I worked hard to make sure that everyone knew what I’d been doing,” said Jacobsen, whose three-year-old company turns over under $586,616.

“I picked up several small international stockists that I can attribute directly to the [LNZFW] stand. But I think in general, having something which focuses all that attention on the fashion industry for one week of the year each year has got to help.”

Any internationals thinking of heading down to LNZFW might be interested to know that the two-week gap between LNZFW and the new MAFW fall show schedule in Melbourne has now been closed. In 2003, the two events will be back-to-back.

At press time organizers said they were confident that MAFW fall 2004 — which runs Oct 26-29 at the new Melbourne arts complex, Federation Square — will attract a 25 percent increase in international attendance and 80 to 100 exhibitors, compared with 35 at the inaugural event last year. To accommodate exhibition newcomers, organizers say they are looking at using several other recently completed Federation Square rooms and venues.

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