Hofex 2009, which runs from tomorrow till Sunday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, is set to be a large and lively event despite the global economic downturn, with statistics showing marked growth on the last fair in 2007. Exhibition booth sales are up 28 per cent, online registration is up 69 per cent and the number of buyers from the Asia-Pacific region has increased 69 per cent, rising from 17,000 in 2007 to more than 29,000 this year. These figures for the 13th Asian International Exhibition of Food and Drink, Hotel, Restaurant and Food Service Equipment, Supplies and Services are welcome and unexpected in view of the economic woes, according to Daniel Cheung Wai-hung, general manager of the Hofex organiser, Hong Kong Exhibition Services. 'That booth sales have increased by 28 per cent in today's economic uncertainty was a big surprise for us. We have looked into what is behind this growth and believe it is based on various factors,' Mr Cheung said. 'Firstly, food and drink are daily necessities. Secondly, Hong Kong is known as a food lover's paradise and we have everything here from small cha chaan teng to top international restaurants. International suppliers are still very keen to do business here as travel expenses are affordable, language is not an issue and Hong Kong is very much considered the gateway to Asia. 'Thirdly, after the economic downturn, many SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] are looking for new markets. In the United States and Europe, additional funding has been given to SMEs and they are looking for stable markets. Emerging markets, such as the mainland, Malaysia, Korea and Vietnam, are less affected by the global downturn.' National booths show particular growth, with some increasing in floor space by up to 100 per cent on the 2007 fair. Australia has the biggest booth at 684 square metres. Taiwan has 648, Spain 638, Italy 588 and the United States 516. While the number of buyers from the US and Europe has dropped, the figure for Asia-Pacific, which accounts for 90 per cent of the fair's buyers, has surged. 'In particular, high-end buyers on the mainland are looking for good products from overseas, especially in the wake of recent food scandals,' Mr Cheung said. 'For example, a 72-strong committee for the 16th Asian Games, which will be held in Guangzhou, will visit the fair to source products - hardware items, such as cooking utensils, and food products - that will match international safety standards for athletes and audiences.' The Wine and Spirit Square has almost doubled to 500 square metres, while the coffee and tea section has almost double the number of companies. Some of the biggest names in coffee, including Starbucks, Nespresso, Illy and Lavazza, and their distributors will take part. There will also be chance for visitors to taste and take part in a tutorial on kopi luwak, or Indonesian 'civet coffee', which is created from beans that have been eaten and passed through the digestive tract of civets. Mr Cheung said that interest in coffee was growing, particularly on the mainland. Macau's interest in the fair remains strong and there will be two pavilions. One is sponsored by the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute and will feature Macanese food, pastries, wine and other goods.The second pavilion is supported by the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO). 'The MGTO sees Hofex as an effective platform for the MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and events] market and for the business sector. Its pavilion aims to target Asians in the food and beverage industry to sell them the image of Macau as a business travel destination,' Mr Cheung said. 'It's a first for Hofex that a booth or pavilion will sell something intangible.'