Comdex fails to meet hopes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2001, 12:00am

The annual Comdex Fall technology gala closed over the weekend, with attendance slashed by half and last-minute cancellations leaving a question mark over total numbers of exhibitors.

Of the 13 companies originally booked to join the Hong Kong pavilion, six cancelled their trips following the September 11 terror attacks. Last year, the pavilion had 16 stands from SAR businesses and organisations.

Chief among the cancellations was the government-backed Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp, at the Tech Centre, which dropped out just days before the opening.

Organiser Key3Media, which had expected a 25 per cent drop from last year's 200,000 visitors, said numbers dived to between 100,000 and 125,000. The official number of exhibitors dropped from 2,300 to 'just under 2,000'.

'I can't give you more than that, I'd probably be fired. Seriously,' said a Key3Media spokesman. Figures for Asian attendees were not available, although 11.5 per cent of visitors were thought to be international.

Dannie Chiu, marketing officer for the Trade Development Council said this year's show had been a mixed experience. Key3Media's decision to pull out of the Sands Expo and Convention Centre just a month before the opening meant space had to be found at the main Las Vegas Convention Centre. As most Asian exhibitors had felt sidelined at the Sands, the move was a welcome change.

'It's OK, because we have the traffic from Microsoft and Sony, so I'm not so unhappy,' said Ms Chiu. 'But the traffic is really slow compared with last year.'

Ms Chiu said she was disappointed at the number of late cancellations, which left blank walls and a snack stand where booths should have been. 'With some, it's the US economy, and maybe some of them were scared to fly,' said Ms Chiu. 'The Tech Centre pulled out at the last minute. That was a huge setback.'

Of the Hong Kong firms that did appear, only two said that they would definitely return.

Tinville Tung, managing director of PortaPower said that while he was unhappy with the number of visitors, the exhibition was a key event in his three-year business plan, and he liked the new location.

'I don't have any problems so we don't have any hard feelings,' said Mr Tung.

His Fotan-based firm, which makes notebook batteries, last exhibited at Comdex six years ago.

Mr Tung said he was not concerned about possible security threats. 'If I was scared, I wouldn't come. I'm not scared of terrorism or the economy going down. We need to earn money, so we have to work. If you're scared, there's nothing you can do. Just go home and sleep.'

Signal Communications was exhibiting for the first time, to demonstrate its remote broadband video system. Senior marketing executive Lavender Li said the product was reviewed in the show's daily magazine, which generated unanticipated traffic.

Charles Chapman, executive director of the Hong Kong Electronic Industries Association, said the number of visitors had plunged after the first day.

'Of all the years since the 1980s that we have been coming to Comdex, this is probably the most disappointing of all,' he said. 'The number of customers we have met this year is a far cry from previous years.'

The US recession and the presence of the public had been an added distraction.

On the plus side, Mr Chapman said the new location was a great improvement, and that some visitors had asked about biometrics systems, which he views as a growth area for Hong Kong. 'So maybe out of the dark comes some light,' he said.

Ming Ho, chief marketing officer for Internet developer SNIIC Technology, said she was unlikely to return next year.

'We are very disappointed because they didn't tell us clearly what was going on,' said Ms Ho, adding that she was not told where her booth would be until the show had begun. 'The HKTDC did a good job though.'

A Comdex regular, Ms Ho said the event had become less focused in recent years. 'It is not planned. It is quite messy. Everything is unorganised,' she said. 'The image of the show is quite bad. In the past it was quite professional, but not now.'

With the increasing number of companies selling directly to the public, the atmosphere was becoming more like a market than a trade show, she said. 'It is too noisy here, we can't really talk with the customers.'

The remaining Hong Kongers on the stand, case builder Karrie Industrial, printing supplies firm Union Camera and premiums and peripherals manufacturer Elite Century Technology all said it was too early to decide whether they would return next year.