China Import and Export Fair, also known as the Canton Fair, is held biannually in Guangzhou every spring and autumn. The exhibition, which has been held every year since 1957, is the largest of its kind in China in terms of scale, variety, distribution of overseas buyers and business turnover.
Free air tickets to Canton Fair
Chloe Lai in Guangzhou
In an unprecedented move to attract as many buyers as possible to the mainland's biggest and oldest trade show, the organiser of the Canton Fair is offering free air tickets, discounted hotel rooms and even free meals to frequent buyers and those from Fortune 500 companies.
The latest strategy to boost attendance at the 105th Canton Fair, to open on April 15, follows an earlier and also unprecedented decision to offer discounts on stall rentals of between 1,000 and 2,000 yuan (HK$1,135-HK$2,270) per exhibitor.
The incentives to lure exhibitors and buyers would cost an estimated 100 million yuan, fair spokesman Mu Xinhai said, adding that at least 10 million yuan would be spent on overseas promotion.
Mr Mu said trading hours would be extended by an hour, with doors closing at 7pm.
Unheard of in the trade show's 52-year history, the special offers underscored the severity of the impact of the global downturn on Chinese exports, a Guangzhou-based economist said.
'They have never tried these kinds of measures before,' said Feng Bangyan, an economics professor at Guangzhou's Jinan University. 'I don't know how much effect the offers are going to have, but it's better than doing nothing. What the organiser is doing now shows they are really worried about the turnout and the eventual deals the Canton Fair will be able to generate this year.'
The fair, held twice a year, is one of three backed by the Ministry of Commerce. It is a barometer of overseas appetite for Chinese-made exports.
The spring session will be held between April 15 and May 7. Mr Mu described the session as the most difficult in recent years. The incentives apply to buyers who have attended 15 sessions of the fair or represent Fortune 500 companies.
At the fair's autumn session last October, Exhibitors complained about a low turnout of overseas buyers, airlines and hotels reported reduced bookings, and black-market rates for booths slumped to as little as a third of cost. The organiser's figures show that 174,562 buyers from 212 countries signed contracts worth US$31.5 billion at the autumn fair, a drop in contract value of close to 17.5 per cent year on year.
Guangzhou news media has reported that rates for five-star hotel rooms in the city over the spring session have dropped by half. It costs just 1,000 to 1,200 yuan per night for a room now, compared with 2,000 to 3,000 yuan previously.
Meanwhile, a toy fair to be held from April 8 to 10 in Guangzhou saw its exhibition space snapped up two months before opening.
The Guangdong Toy Fair, which targets the domestic market, attributed the better-than-expected response to manufacturers' changing attitudes to the mainland market.