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Defining The Future Of ITMA Shows

By John T. Millington, International News Editor

B irmingham, England, is not a location that trips regularly off the tongue of textile people internationally. But now after 20 years of trying, the city has finally broken the monopoly of Hanover, Germany; Milan, Italy; and Paris, to host the next ITMA show, October 21-30, 2003.

Skepticism exists, largely because of unfamiliarity. An enthusiastic and ambitious partnership of the British Textile Machinery Association (BTMA), Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre (NEC) and the city of Birmingham are making early efforts to persuade potential exhibitors and the world’s textile media of the suitability of the NEC as a venue and of the adequacy of the surrounding infrastructure, especially in terms of hotel accommodation and transport.

The Lay Of The Land

It is hardly surprising that the first thought of the majority of business and pleasure visitors to the United Kingdom is London. As an ITMA venue, if the exhibition facilities were available — which they are not — this would equate to ITMA Paris and virtually to the same extent, Milan. Hanover, however, is a provincial German city with a superb exhibition complex, but hotel accommodations catering to ITMA visitors are often an hour or more away.

In this way, Birmingham can fairly be compared with Hanover. The 160,000 square meters of stand space are among the most modern in the world, with $100 million spent on new halls last year. The NEC is used to hosting major international events although it may not be used to handling quite the same amount of engineering, machinery and other heavy equipment as Hanover is.

Birmingham is the United Kingdom’s second-largest city, with a population of more than 3 million. It is modern, dynamic and an acknowledged European center of arts, music and culture. And few now doubt that the dedicated team at the NEC will put on anything other than an excellent show in 2003.

Exceptional direct access by air and rail links will be in place by 2003, and Birmingham is at the hub of the central U.K. motorway network. Doubts may therefore center on hotel accommodations. In response, Bob Gilbert, chairman of Birmingham Marketing Partnership, has been quick to point out that there are already some 65,800 bedspaces within one hour’s drive of the NEC and among the new hotels being built are three more on the NEC site itself.

Eric France, director of the BTMA, has pinpointed another advantage — English is the business language of most large textile markets. Among other factors this has elicited “tremendous response” from the United States, as well as a “positive reaction” from countries including China, India, Pakistan and Taiwan.

CEMATEX Approval

Of equal interest is the fact that Birmingham provides a watershed in the future of the global textile machinery exhibition scene.

On one hand, it demonstrates a new flexibility on behalf of CEMATEX, the 8-nation sponsor of the ITMA shows. CEMATEX Secretary General Carlo Meandelwitsh has said that in the future there is nothing to stop any European city from bidding for future ITMA’s, providing that they have suitable exhibition facilities and infrastructure.

CEMATEX is also intent on pursuing its goal of reducing the proliferation of textile machinery exhibitions around the world to manageable proportions, without depreciating the market and promotional needs of machinery makers. In the past, breakaway textile machinery exhibitions have sometimes proved a lucrative source of revenue for entrepreneurial individuals and organizations.

Since it has effective control over the international exhibition intentions of such a large proportion of machinery makers, CEMATEX feels it is in an ideal position to control any further free-for-all proliferation of shows.

The future of ITMA exhibitions therefore looks to devolve around the European-based shows as the only truly global showplace. Other exhibitions will, by implication, therefore revert to a largely regional or domestic role. In this respect, ITMA Asia in 2001 is not expected to totally extend its visitor appeal to Southeast Asia, including China, Hong Kong and Japan. What it will cover is the new technology comparison needs of such growing markets as India, Pakistan and Malaysia.

CEMATEX strongly denies that it is intent on usurping the OTEMAS exhibition in Osaka, Japan, which follows right after ITMA Asia in Singapore. It is acknowledged that there is a highly significant Japanese market which remains of great interest to many textile equipment suppliers and that this will be supported by domestic machinery builders.

Other Factors

The two ATME-I exhibitions in Greenville, S.C., due to come together as one after 2001, will remain key attractions for the Americas. The big question is whether the same will happen in China with CITME in Beijing, and Shanghaitex in Shanghai.

Visitors to the most recent Shanghaitex, held this past September, report the growing textile influence of the region and the increasing importance of the show. But there are powerful political influences which favor a continuation of a textile machinery exhibition in the capital city of the Peoples Republic.

December 1999