Long considered a strong indicator of the health of the information technology (IT) market, computer-related trade shows and exhibitions should expand further in the next two years, show organisers claim. Many - including Michael Duck, director of computer trade publisher and show organiser Miller Freeman - attribute this to several factors, including a belief the mainland is an oasis of stability in the regional economic crisis. Such faith is rooted in fact. According to New Century Group, an IT consultancy, software sales and the provision of IT services are fast-growing areas that will average 34 per cent and 39 per cent annual growth respectively to 2001. The consultancy estimates combined IT vendor revenues in the mainland will reach US$8.3 billion this year. 'Marketing dollars are coming back into the region due to the yuan's strength,' Mr Duck said. 'And the mainland exhibition business is certainly going well at the moment since companies are looking for distribution opportunities there, thus resulting in joint ventures.' Foreign IT firms that had invested in other parts of the region had been hurt by falls in currencies. Mainland and SAR investment was beginning to look attractive in comparison. Stanley Chu, managing director of Adsale, said: 'The domestic Chinese market is still quite big, especially for infrastructure-related products.' This trend would continue, as much reconstruction would be required after the mainland floods had subsided. Foreign vendors have headed directly to the mainland to exhibit products for some time, rather than using Hong Kong as a stepping stone. Adsale's Annie Chu, general manager of administration and marketing support, said the company believed the mainland and the SAR were two different markets as far as the exhibition industry was concerned. Cary Sun, vice-president of InfoEX-World, said that not only was the mainland IT market much larger than that of Hong Kong - with an estimated worth of $2.2 billion this year, according to New Century - but customers were more eager for IT-related equipment. That assertion was supported by Mr Duck, who said rising disposable income in the mainland had prompted more consumers to visit computer shows, especially as they believed IT held benefits for their children. InfoEX-World is organising IT exhibitions in Beijing, Shanghai and Sichuan before the end of the year. Those shows should be successful, Mr Sun said. The mainland IT market's relative youth, along with the huge customer base represented by the government and the financial sectors, were primary reasons. 'In 1993, we only had one show in China,' he said. 'Now we have a mainstream computer show and a more specialised networking show in four cities every year.' InfoEX-World's shows had increased in average size from 1,500 square metres in 1993 to about 5,000 square metres per show today. The number of exhibitors at the Beijing shows had also increased, with the 1998 show boasting 633 booths, a 15 per cent increase over a year earlier. 'For IT vendors, the government's determination to reform the state-owned manufacturing sector bodes well for continued growth in revenues,' the New Century Group said in July. Mr Chu agreed, saying the IT industry on the mainland was experiencing tremendous growth, especially in the Internet arena. Adsale's PT/wireless communication show, which is held biennially in Beijing, had about 160,000 visitors last year, up from 45,000 in 1995, while total exhibition space doubled from 6,000 square metres to 12,000 square metres and the number of exhibitors rose from 60 to 130. Exhibition halls in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are booked years in advance, despite high prices, according to Reed Exhibitions' senior manager Patricia Cheung. This is despite the many deterrents faced by non-mainland exhibition organisers and multinational firms exhibiting there. They include high tariffs, complex customs procedures and lack of world-class exhibition facilities. However, there can be too much of a good thing. Organisers report that often crowds attending mainland shows are more interested in gathering information than buying equipment. After InfoEX-World's Beijing shows registered 230,000 visitors two years ago, the company began to screen visitors in an effort to achieve quality over quantity, according to Mr Sun. Last year's attendance, as a result, was only 85,000. Filtering visitors was essential for trade shows, Mr Duck said.