While the RemaxWorld Expo tradeshow in Zhuhai, China is taking a huge hit due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, on the whole, China is weathering the COVID-19 storm as can best be expected—according to the show’s head organizer.
“As painful as it was for that three months of lockdown, now we’re out of it and the pain is behind us,” said Zhuhai-based David Gibbons, Vice General Manager at Comexposium Recycling Times Exhibition Services and Director of RT Media.
Chinese residents are attending events, restaurants, and social gatherings, Gibbons said. Required mask wearing, on-site temperature checks, and phone contact tracing help keep the virus at bay.
“If you’re from an area that’s a hotspot, then obviously you’re not permitted to enter or participate in an event,” he said of the necessary contract tracing app, noting right now there are no “hotspot” areas in China.
|David Gibbons showing me his phone’s Contact Tracing app over our video call.|
Touchless ways of living have become widespread, including phone apps for ordering and paying at restaurants, buying merchandise in stores, and purchasing bus tickets.
“Everything is digital, everything is cashless now,” he said, noting he hasn’t used actual money in nine-plus months.
People are back in the office, working with masks, washing their hands, and using hand sanitizer. Gibbons was a bit surprised how quickly so many people returned to the office, where they are powering up devices (like printers and MFPs) like they always did.
“Many of the companies we represent in our industry, they are back in the office,” Gibbons said. “Very few of them are working from home.”
One factor may be the fact many have not needed to supervise children who are remote learning. Children are now back in school, but even during lockdown their grandparents were able to watch them. Part of Chinese is culture is that families live with—and take care of—the husband’s parents, who in turn care for the grandchildren.
“Online learning really took off while the schools were closed here, but mom and dad still went to work,” Gibbons said.
Another difference between China and certain other countries is that social distancing six feet, or 1.5 meters, is not really part of the virus-fighting strategy. There’s a practical reason for that.
“Here in China it’s almost impossible with so many people around to keep your distance; that’s probably why the mask has been such an important tool,” he said.
While Chinese people are largely carrying on with life as normal, with a few adjustments, many are still fairly hesitant to travel by plane. Typically, the RemaxWorld Expo attracts about 15,000 attendees, 70% of which are from China; this year that number has fallen to just a few thousand (the event is taking place November 19 and 20).
Foreign attendees typically represent about 85 different countries; many of these individuals (such as those in Brazil, a country hard-hit by the virus) continue to work from home. It’s clear that the inkjet print market is benefitting from the move to home working, said Gibbons, suggesting this time is an “inkjet heyday.”
“I think this is the window of opportunity they’ve been looking for to capture more market share,” Gibbons said of inkjet technology manufacturers.
Gibbons and his Comexposium team have had to cancel numerous regional events in areas like Europe, Africa, India, Pakistan, Latin America, and North America. Instead, they are trying to link print consumables and device buyers through a new online initiative called “Find-a-Supplier,” where the two parties can video chat about the cost of products, how fast they can be shipped, and the possibility of receiving samples.
“People are hungry to do business, there’s no doubt about that–buyers and sellers,” Gibbons said, noting sellers must pay a fee to participate in the new platform—but it’s free for buyers.
It’ll be interesting to see how this digital approach takes off, Gibbons said, with people in our industry so used to making deals and shaking hands face to face. That said, it is clear people are shifting to more digital ways of working and accessing information; this is reflected in increased visits to RT Media’s website.
Between the growth in digital, and increased distribution costs for RT Media’s magazines, the future of these print publications is unclear.
“We can print that magazine for a dollar but to get it to you, Christine, it costs another four dollars,” Gibbons said. “And it used to be two.”
Right now, Gibbons said, he and his company are taking things month by month, moment by moment—given all the unknowns presented by the virus. What’s key is that people work together to fight the virus, not one another.
“I would really like to stress that’s the thing that’s going to pull us through this and out the other side, our industry included,” Gibbons said.
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