THE furniture market is still in the doldrums say exhibitors at Hong Kong's first interior furnishings trade fair. While speakers at the opening ceremony, including acting Secretary for Trade and Industry Regina Ip, painted a bright future for the industry as a whole, those on the retail floor are waiting for the Hong Kong market to improve. Several Hong Kong exhibitors said that the downturn in the real estate sector continued to dampen demand for interior design and furniture. Danny Ip, sales manager of Gala Fair, a Hong Kong paint and lacquer producer, said his firm was participating in the trade fair to find new Hong Kong buyers, but interest was sluggish. 'Business has been down for the past 12 months', he said. 'The market in Hong Kong is almost saturated.' George Ip, of Sunflower Corp (Asia), a producer of decorative laminate, agreed that business in Hong Kong was 'slow' and that people were not in the mood to spend on furniture. Like other exhibitors, he said that his company was seeking expansion by concentrating on the potentially enormous China market. He said that as economic development in China proceeded, the demand for luxury interior furnishings was likely to increase rapidly. 'Almost half of the visitors to our exhibit are mainland Chinese sent by their firms to seek information,' he said. 'While not all of them are buyers, this level of interest is highly encouraging.' Mr Ip's comments were echoed by John Jarman, director of the Interior Design Association, Hong Kong. Mr Jarman said that while the market for interior design products in Hong Kong certainly had slowed, the opening up of China and the increasing opportunities in Indonesia and Vietnam offered plenty of compensation for the territory's designers and producers. He said that many of the best designers in Hong Kong were handling projects in China and elsewhere in the region. He said that the trade fair provided an excellent opportunity for Hong Kong firms to gain international exposure and develop contacts overseas. The trade fair, presented by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and Messe Frankfurt, will be open until tomorrow.