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Is the exhibition family saga coming to an end?

Bjorn Kempe, CEO of ExposAsia, says the era of family-run exhibition businesses could be coming to an end.


bkFamily businesses have been in our industry since the very early beginnings.

With entrepreneurs like Ned Kraus, Stephen Brooks, Mr Zhang and Mr Wang Mingliang, Sandy Angus, ‘The März-brothers’  in Germany, Edward Liu in Singapore and many more successful family owners, our industry has thrived always attracted new blood and incubated shows from family-owned businesses.

In Asia – especially in India, China and South East Asia – families have long been the foundation of the exhibition industry. With the recent transactions for Mack Brooks, Dental India going to Düsseldorf, Gift Show in India for Messe Frankfurt, Textil Show in India for Messe Frankfurt, Energy Show SETA for Deutsche Messe in Thailand – just to name a few – the selling of family businesses continues accross the region. I fear the great family saga for exhibition businesses is coming slowly to an end. 

Most of the 60-plus-year-old owners experience difficulties in finding successors and/or feel the growing pressure from even bigger international giants, leaving a choice of selling out or dying with the businesses. 

Fortunately, many families have realised that they won’t be able to win the growing competition from Informa, Reed, Clarion and some German Messe’s forever. 

The recent deals in India and South East Asia illustrate a trend that is alarming because in many countries the family traditional exhibition business are slowly disappearing and may be extinct within five years. 

Thailand already realised the need to grow new local businesses as the majority of the B2B business are already in the hand of international players. Indian family companies have just started to see the dark clouds and are getting prepared. Indonesia, Malaysia and Chinese family-run businesses will be under the hammer within a few months and EW expects to report on that. 

So, what is bringing the family saga to an end? Not only the newly formed billion USD revenue giants but also local constraints. 

New venues have been mushrooming all over the region in India, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China second tier cities and Shenzhen and recently Taipei announcing the extension of their exhibition centre as well. But are these venues built for family businesses? Rather not – the mega venues have been built to cater the needs of the top 20 in our industry and state-owned businesses. 

Family businesses are not the good and profitable tenants anymore that they used to be 20 years ago – nowadays venue owners prefer corporate clients or big exhibition organisers that have no problem with booking 3-5 years in advance and put deposits on the table.

Family owners are treated the same way as big corporate clients or even less well because of late payments, but family companies have always been ambitious to incubate, to try, to experiment and to develop the local markets. With more than US$100m of family owned asset values likely to be sold in India, China and South East Asia within the next five years, the markets will lose some great inventors and families that have been active in our industry for two or more generations.

It’s important that venues are also giving proper attention and support to grow family businesses and that the giants will treat their local family partners nicely because our industry needs innovations, incubations and experiments to adapt the new markets: often only family run businesses are quick enough to deliver this to the market. Let us hope the Asian family saga does not come to an end. 

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