Cautious optimism best sums up the mood of the Australian trade show sector as organizers hold firm, consolidate and value-add to their offerings in the face of the global economic crisis and the weak Australian dollar, which reached a five-year low in early October.Some analysts have predicted that Australia will be facing a “shallow” recession in the first quarter of 2009, despite the best efforts of the Reserve Bank of Australia, which has cut rates by 200 basis points in the past three months, and a 10.4 billion Australian dollar, or $6.63 billion, economic stimulus package announced last month by the new Labour government.The latter may help boost consumer confidence in the short term, however the prognosis for the Australian dollar is poor. Having already declined 31 percent against the U.S. dollar since it reached a 25-year high of 98.49 cents on July 16, some have predicted the currency could fall to a record low of 40 cents in 2009.“We’re all working through the dollar issue at the moment” said Omer Soker, exhibition director of Reed Gift Fairs. Up to 25 percent of the attendance of the shows is comprised of fashion, jewelryand accessories retailers.Added Soker, “I think companies who are importing, who have not hedged, are going to have some issues. Companies that have hedged currencies will be firm. I think we could be looking at a bit of shake-up next year really, depending what happens at Christmas. Two thousand and nine is going to be a year of strength and consolidation.”Reed has two Gift Fairs scheduled for the first half of 2009: The Melbourne Gift Trade Fair will take place from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre at Southbank, with anticipated size and attendance equitable to the February 2008 show — approximately 65,000 square feet and 8,257 visitors.The Sydney Gift Trade Fair will run Feb. 21 to 25 over 170,000 square feet of the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour. Reed had been planning to expand the February 2009 event with a spin-off showcase called Designer, housing 50 to 60 high-end exhibitors at Australian Technology Park near Darling Harbour, however, the company recently announced that it has postponed the expansion until 2010.Australian Exhibitions and Conferences said that it is “holding firm,” with exhibitors committing to booking space for the company’s four fashion shows that are due to take place in the first half of 2009.The organizer was surprised to learn that, although less business was written on-site at the most recent Melbourne edition of Fashion Exposed, Australia’s biggest apparel trade show, more business was in fact written afterwards. According to an independent audit by Micromex Research, attendance was up by 12 percent on visits and 16 percent on visitors compared with September 2007, with visitors expecting to place orders averaging 11,578 Australian dollars, or $7,380, after the fair — compared with 8,386 Australian dollars, or $5,343, in September 2007. The Australian Shoe Fair will run from Feb. 13 to 15 at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. Some 2,600 visitors are expected, which represents no change from February 2007, but the projected size and exhibitor numbers are slightly down compared with last year’s 54,000 square feet and 140 exhibitors.From March 8 to 10, the same venue will showcase AEC’s Spring-Summer 2009-2010 edition of Fashion Exposed. Around 550 exhibitors are expected to occupy approximately 242,000 square feet of space, both slight increases over last year. Included within Fashion Exposed are two spin-off minishows: the high-end designer showcase Preview (70 to 80 exhibitors, including men’s wear for the first time) and The Leather Bags & Accessories Fair (200 exhibitors). In addition, the successful Streetlab streetwear section will expand to cover approximately 10,800 square feet. “We’re being fairly conservative, but we haven’t seen a significant downturn in bookings, we seem to be on track, meeting our targets,” said Marie Kinsella, managing director AEC, which stages 11 shows across a number of industry sectors. “I’ve been through a number of downturns before in the exhibition industry and traditionally, fairs and exhibitions fare quite well, because suppliers are looking to get that immediate impact of orders or income into their business and they can see that trade fairs provide a positive opportunity to have an injection of income. That was the case certainly during the early 1990s.” While the low dollar might be bad news for importers, it’s very good news for exporters, and the organizer of Australia’s best-known fashion trade event believes the currency situation should work not only in Rosemount Australian Fashion Week’s favor, but also that of the company’s brand new Australian Swim Fashion Week showcase, which will run Feb. 25 to 28 at the Hyatt Regency Sanctuary Cove on Queensland’s Gold Coast. Having previously come under fire for a lack of established brands on its 2007 runways, RAFW returned in 2008 with a packed event that some buyers called the “best ever.” The event was buoyed by an upbeat mood, a busier-than-usual schedule and the return of several leading local brands, which had skipped the Australian runway for as many as five years while they concentrated their marketing efforts offshore, including Sass & Bide, Easton Pearson, Michelle Jank and Akira Isogawa. The next edition of Rosemount Australian Fashion Week will run from April 27 to May 1 at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal.
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