A Guide to Canton Fair (China)

Quick stats if you are reading this on a mobile device:

  1. Canton Fair address: China Import and Export Fair (Pazhou) Complex, 380 Yuejiangzhong Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou 510335  (google map).
  1. Telephone Country code: 86
  1. Currency conversion: xe.com; as of Oct 18, rate was 6 RMB for every US$1

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Canton Fair, arguably one of the world’s biggest business exhibitions opens twice a year – in April and in October. First inaugurated in April 1957, the Canton Fair is held in Guangzhou, China. The fair is divided into three phases for both months.

The Fair is co-hosted by the Ministry of Commerce of China and People’s Government of Guangdong Province, and organized by China Foreign Trade Centre.

About 55,000+ booths generated $262.3M over an exhibition space of 1.2 million square meters (2008 estimates).

The official address of the venue is China Import and Export Fair (Pazhou) Complex, 380 Yuejiangzhong Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou 510335  (google map).

Its full name since 2007 has been China Import and Export Fair (中国进出口商品交易会), renamed from Chinese Export Commodities Fair (中国出口商品交易会),[1][2] also known as Canton Fair (广州交易会), which abbreviation is 广交会.

The fair is divided into 3 phases – each taking about a week with 2-4 days in between.

For example, the fair that I attended had the following dates: Phase 1: Oct 15-19, 2013, Phase 2: Oct 23-27, Phase 3: Oct 31, Nov 4, 2013

Phase 1

  • Electronics and Household Electrical Appliances
  • Lightning Equipment
  • Vehicle and Spare Parts
  • Machinery
  • Hardware and Tools
  • Building Materials
  • Chemical Products

Phase 2

  • Consumer Goods
  • Gifts
  • Home Decorations

 Phase 3

  • Textiles and Garments
  • Shoes
  • Office Supplies, Cases and Bags, and Recreation Products
  • Food
  • Medicines, Medical Devices and Health Products

This is my second trip to China – the first was in 2010 for Canton’s April fair. China is a fantastic place but here are some guidelines for new travellers to Canton Fair:

BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR CHINA:

  1. Ensure that your passport has at least 6 months validity.
  2. You will need 1 passport photo (as per Toronto office policy).
  3. Register at Canton’s website as well as the invitation letter if required at: http://invitation.cantonfair.org.cn/en/index.aspx
  4. Get an invitation letter from a Chinese company or from the fair itself. Check out Alibaba.com or Made-in-China.com to research companies that you want to work with, and get an official signed and sealed letter from there. A scanned version will do for most countries. I applied at the Toronto consulate, and a scanned copy worked just fine.
  5. If you don’t have a letter or cannot get one, register at “Buyer E-Service Tool” – it will cost you around US$20 (see point #4).
  6. Take photo, letter, and passport alongwith the required fees to the consulate for processing visa. You can also use a 3rd party-service to process the visa for you. I personally used Visa Centre (http://www.chinavisacenter.ca/tourist-visa/) and was thoroughly impressed by them. Their online status page keeps you updated of your visa at all times.
  7. In your home country, apply for the Chinese visa at least 2 weeks in advance. Watch out for Chinese holidays – I got in a jiffy as the consulate was closed for “National Day” holidays between Oct 1 and 7.
  8. Book a hotel (ignore if your company is arranging this or if you have alternate arrangements). Sites like booking.com, hotels.com, and expedia.com offer great rates. The Westin is right at the fair alongwith Shangri-La, Hyatt, Landmark, Weldon, Baiyun and other 5-star hotels if you can afford the rates.  Other nearby cheaper alternatives exist as well. Most hotels during the Canton Fair offer free shuttle service. My suggestion is to book early (as rates during the fair typically jump 3 to 4 times).  Hotels exist in all stars, shapes, amenities, and services. Since the majority of your time will be spent at the fair, a generally clean, decent hotel will do. If however, you prefer a more luxurious homebase, go for it. I stayed at the T-Hotel (http://t-hotel.com.cn/), close to Jinan University (about 10 minutes from the fair). Breakfast is included, but no shuttle or other services. I paid about $100 a night.
  9. Get business cards printed especially for the Canton Fair – what I mean by that is have a separate email address for China Canton Fair. I still get 20-30 emails a day from random Chinese companies selling me anything and everything under the sun even though I specifically handed the cards to sellers in specific categories. Your business card is like Gold for Chinese sellers. A gmail address will ensure you can apply filters, archive, or just ignore without bombarding your company or corporate email address — and possibly subjecting you to the grueling task to cleaning your Inbox everyday!
  10. 10. Print, note down or take a photo of the address of the hotel, preferably a map, phone number, and a few key phrases in Chinese such as “I want to go to…”, etc.
  11. 11. Get yourself familiar with translate.google.com – it has cool features such as typed text translation, scribbled translation, as well as speech (audio) translation. Really, really helpful in tight circumstances!
  12. 12. Instill patience (if you are not) — every conversation, message, exchange, etc takes time in China. It is a cultural norm. It is embedded. The majority of Chinese do not speak English hence it will be a challenge explaining or repeating everything.

AT THE BAIYUN (GUANGZHOU) AIRPORT

  1. Several hundreds of visitors will pour into the Immigration lanes as you depart the airplane. Ensure that your forms are filled in the airline, so you are ready to go straight to the immigration lines. Be prepared for a good wait. While the immigration officials are pretty fast themselves, the sheer volume contributes to the waiting time considerably before your time comes up.
  2. Once immigration clears you, go straight down to baggage claim, collect your bags (if you have any), and exit.
  3. #1 Rule: NEVER, ever take a private taxi to your hotel/apartment/friend’s place unless you know the area very well and you can negotiate the price before hand. I personally paid 3 times the fare. The key is to keep walking outside to the “taxi area” once you have collected your bags. Literally tens of “street vendors” will try to sell you everything from vacations to phone cards, to flowers, to even sex. Stay away. Look straight. Politely nod “no” and keep walking.
  4. Convert money to Chinese Yaun Renminbi (RMB). At the airport, I noticed that there was  60 RMB “conversion fee” – ludicrious if you ask. You can convert at a bank, hotel or even the fair with no commission fees. However, if you need some money for the taxi or other misc expenses, go for it. Note that credit card acceptance is common as well.
  5. As of 2013, the official taxi rates are as follows: 10 RMB initial plus 2.6 RMB for every kilometer.
  6. A trip to the Canton Fair is about 46km from the airport directly and will cost you about 130 RMB.
  7. SIM cards as well as money exchange facilities are available at the airport. Local calls are around 0.1 RMB per minute regardless of which carrier you choose. National and international calls are also competitive. If you are in Guangzhou, you do not need to dial “86” – just dial the area code, and voila! I would suggest getting an unlocked phone and using a local China SIM for your voice and internet needs. I purchased a SIM card for 150 RMB which included 100 RMB of balance for voice and 300 MB of data.
  8. I would bet my first born that your driver will probably not know how to speak in English – if this scares you, refer to point  #9.

BEFORE YOU GO TO THE CANTON FAIR

21. Keep the hotel card with you at all times. A little map behind the card, or handy phone numbers of the manager of the hotel, etc is a MANDATORY item. Keep this handy. You will thank yourself. Make sure you have a cell phone so that you can call the hotel in case your taxi driver, etc is lost or does not understand the location. At least, you can have him call the hotel directly.

22. If you are staying at a Canton “appointed” (preferred) hotel, you can get your IC (Fair) Entry Badge (provided with lanyard). Trust me, this will save at least 30 mins to 2 hours depending on the day and time of you go to the Fair. The first day is VERY busy, and then it subsides.

23. You will need your passport and a Photo to create your IC Badge. If you have an existing passport photo, take it with you. It will save you about 5 to 10 RMB.  The IC Badge will cost you $200 RMB. Note that IC Badges from previous registrations are valid perpetually (unless Canton decided to do away with the policy or the fair ends permanently).

24. Enure that you have VERY comfortable shoes. Your feet will thank you! A lot of walking in involved in Canton and your feet can quickly succumb to the intense exercise. Loose, confortable clothing is also recommended – the fair is attended by folks wearing everything from pyjamas (yes, pyjamas) to 3-piece suits. Business casual attire is best.

25. Get a pair of sunglasses for walking outdoors. Even though the majority of booths are indoors (except the large machinery booths), it is best to have a pair of shades.

26. A good, comfortable bag for collecting brochures, business cards and other collateral should be available. There are a couple of vendors that sell bags at the fair as well. Bags on comfortable wheels will be a god-send — especially if this is your first time. Seasoned visitors know to collect stuff methodologically.

DURING THE CANTON FAIR

  1. Keep yourself hydrated. Get a water bottle either from the fair or from the hotel. A small fruit such as an apple, orange or banana is good to recharge your batteries.
  2. If this is your first trip, the tendency to “accept” all marketing material will be common. Keeping common courtesy (especially if someone shoves catalogs your way) or general inquisitiveness aside, avoid unneccesary collateral. It will slow you down, tire you (bags will get heavy), and keep you unfocused on your core interests.
  3. Your business card is like gold. People will literally exchange it for free stuff like maps, souvenirs — even food. See #9. Be very selective about who you hand out your business card to.
  4.  There are a lot of free trips to different areas or even cities that offer half-day excursions if they can whisk you away to other exhibitions. I saw a ‘Kitchen Exhibition’ that promised ‘spectacular wares at great prices’. The catch was that I had to spend a day probably looking at knives. I politely said ‘no’. You can do otherwise if you like, have the time…

AFTER THE CANTON FAIR (DEPARTING TO YOUR HOME COUNTRY/CITY)

31. Go at least 4 hours before your flight. Ask 2 to 3 persons about where your counter is. Ask a 4th person. Language will be a barrier even though the ‘information kiosks’ speak reasonable English.

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