Monday 20th April 2015
A China Golf slow down?
Ever since we’ve been exhibiting at the China Golf Show in Beijing, there’s been talk of the moratorium on golf course development that was issued by the Chinese government in 2004. Of course this didn’t stop some from building new courses, and the show has been largely unaffected, most likely because of the optimistic nature of those in the industry, hoping that policy will change. That is until this year’s show.
The 2015 China Golf Show was quiet. Very quiet. For the past couple of years many other exhibitors have suggested they might not bother with next year’s show, but most turned up again anyway. This year that all changed, and by my guess there were around 60% less exhibitors.
The traffic for the industry side of the show was also down by quite some margin compared with 2014, although the merchandise and simulators seemed nice and busy. Trying to look for positives from the three days: it is a good sign there were so many people wanting to buy balls, clothing and try the latest simulations. It shows that there is still a lot of interest in the game, and that there is certainly a demand in China. How this demand will be viewed by the Chinese government, if at all, and if it will translate into work for our side of the industry is going to be interesting.
What is the future for golf course development in China?
For the developers, designers, irrigation companies, etc. it was a very quiet three days. This is a reflection of the great deal of apprehension that exists in the industry in China at the moment. It’s a result of the crackdown by the Government over the past couple of years, and the closure of a lot of courses that were seen to have broken the terms of the 2004 moratorium. So developers are naturally wary about building new courses and are waiting to see what happens before making any commitments.
This period of waiting could come to an end in July. Whilst I am not aware of all the details, my understanding is that the Government will issue a new set of policies for golf development and make public which courses will be closed, which need to be changed, and those that can remain. Depending on what the Government decides, this could trigger a new wave of development, albeit it a lot smaller than before, or it could be another step back. We are very much in the hands of the Chinese Government.
What we’ve gained from five years at the China Golf Show
Ever the optimists, we go into each golf show telling ourselves that we only need one job to make it all worthwhile, although this isn’t how we measure the success of a show. We’ve been exhibiting at the golf show in Beijing for five years and we try not to judge it on the number of projects we get. Of course cash flow is important, and we’d love to come away with at least one signed project. But when we first came to Asia, more than one exhibitor told us that we would have to be patient, and keep coming back, as it can take many years to establish yourself here, for people to recognise you and want to do business with you.
So we try and take a long-term view, judging the show on the people we meet and the relationships we establish. On more than one occasion we’ve been recommended for a project in another part of the world, from a contact we met two or three years previously in Beijing. The show is as much about, if not more about, networking and keeping our name in the minds of people in the industry, as it is about signing projects during those three days. Of course it can be demoralising when the attendance is so low and the prospect of new projects is slim.
The bright spot about the show being so quiet was that I had the opportunity to spend more time with some of the other exhibitors, which I wouldn’t usually do. The likes of David Dale of Golf Plan, Martin Moore of construction firm Flagstick, Greg Muirhead of golf course design company Rees Jones, and golf course architect Ted Robinson. Whilst many decided not to exhibit, there were a few who decided to walk the floor. The up side for them, with so few other people at the show, was that they were guaranteed to have somewhere to sit. Of the floor walkers, a special mention goes to Ross Perrett of Thompson Perrett, and Joel Jones of EcoPlan, who kept me entertained when it was particularly quiet.
Will we be back next year?
As much as we enjoy the show, and as much as we want to remain patient, optimistic and support the industry, we’re going to let the dust settle after this year’s show and make a decision closer to the time about 2016. It certainly doesn’t help that the organisers have increased the cost of exhibiting by almost 45%, which is something they also did a couple of years ago. It was already costly to exhibit compared with some other shows, so it is a surprising thing to do when the industry in China is on its knees and needs all the help it can get. It makes it very difficult for the smaller companies like us to continue, so our participation next year will be a big decision for us. We heard there was plenty of optimism at Golf Industry Show in the USA, so maybe you’ll see us there instead.
Whilst this was arguably the worst of the five years we’ve exhibited at the golf show in Beijing, it has ironically turned out to be possibly the best year. A week after the show we signed a very exciting project and one of the few that is being developed in China. It just goes to show you never can tell what will happen in China. We hope to show our animations for this project in the coming months.