Real Estate Fairs - Where Business, Investments and Tourism Meet
While private investors with very deep pockets can afford to tackle state of the art projects, municipalities typically have to deal with extremely challenging situations, which, let's face it, are under-financed more often than note. Restoring historical sites, rebuilding an old, torn down city center, or developing a new neighborhood that's modern, but still follows the general architectural style of the region – all these require vision, courage, and a combination of innovation and tested, reliable solutions.
An example of such a challenging project was the 5-year redevelopment of London's King's Cross station, a £500m investment aimed at keeping the old charm of the landmark, while adding modern functionality for the 47 million passengers that use the station every year. The defining feature is now the diagrid roof, which covers 150 meters – and it was all completed without having to cancel one single train.
Another successful development that brought together local authorities, investors, tourist operators, and constructors was the restoration of the Southend Pier, in Southend-on-Sea, the longest pleasure pier in the world, severely damaged after a fire in 2005. With funding provided by the government, as well as by the European Union, the sun-deck was re-created, and the pier now boasts strikingly modern glass buildings that house the lifeboat, museum, and gift shop.
Such projects bring new life into the area, attract tourists, and make it on the headlines – but, rewarding as they may be, they are also extremely difficult to organize and control. Quite often, real estate fairs bring together people that would not normally meet during the course of their business activities – not just developers, investors, and architects, but also volunteers and non-profit organizations, whose ideas and visions turn dreams into reality. Moreover, the latest technology is usually put on display at such fairs first, and the companies that develop new technologies are very keen to cooperate with local authorities, since that will grant them maximum exposure in the media – not to mention a good testing ground for their ambitious developments.
In a way, this is a chance for the local authorities to exert a positive, but subtle influence on the industry, to indicate the general directions where investors should focus in the future, without instating limits and boundaries. In return, municipalities can offer what investors really want: reliability, and the promise of a long-term partnership. Partners in a real estate project have to know and trust each other, and they have to be certain that they share a common goal for the following decades – hence, the importance of networking at an industry fair.
It's Not about the Buildings, It's about the People
Local authorities, hotel chains, and tourism operators all face the same challenge: access to reliable, modern, cost-efficient infrastructure. Investments in infrastructure have a typical life-cycle of 50 years; unfortunately, the financial tools available on the market today are rarely designed for such an extensive period of time. Many of the big cities are faced with a stringent problem of aging infrastructure and lack of funding to develop a new one. In addition, the increased interest in rural tourism and the discovery of wild habitats raises even more problems: such areas are poorly connected to a country's network of roads, airports, and railways, therefore prohibiting the access of tourists, and making them uninteresting for tourism investors. However, pushing infrastructure projects on such locations bears the risk of ruining exactly what constitutes their unique character – so such investments have to be undertaken after careful consideration and analysis.
Ultimately, it's the inhabitants who should have the final say in these matters, and, while they express their choices in local elections, they can also be offered an additional chance during real estate fairs, where they can see sketches and drawings of future plans, and get a better understanding of what's in store for their home. Each place has unique challenges, that don't fit into the blueprint devised half across the world; lifestyle choices, travel patterns, terrain conditions, existing points of interest – all these cannot be evaluated simply by looking at a map.
Real estate fairs are also great places for local officials to announce future infrastructure developments, and to create awareness and increase the investors' interest for areas that will hold a strategic importance in the future. It's a win-win situation, as investors want to hear about such projects, and they want the heads up for any government-backed program. It's also a good way to test new ideas, for example, by announcing a potential development, and encouraging the interested parties to sign up to a mailing list.
For small communities, the participation in a trade show has countless benefits. Finding investors and developers can be extremely difficult for remote town and villages, even if they have the potential to attract a large number of tourists. Many places in the world have great potential for tourism, but few manage to exploit it efficiently, and even fewer succeed in attracting investors and long-term partners.
Key Places on the Real Estate Fair Map
Organized in Cannes, France, MIPIM brings together over 20,000 participants, from more than 80 different countries. Over 1,000 of the exhibiting companies are investors, while there are only 300 local authorities struggling to get their attention, and fewer than 150 hotel groups. Needless to say, this ratio considerably increases the chances of finding a suitable investor for any urban development. In addition, the event attracts considerable media interest, with over 400 journalists accredited to cover it in the news, therefore allowing the local authorities to showcase their ideas in a new light, and to gather momentum. For the 2013 event, MIPIM has even planned a Mayor's Think Tank, to encourage participants to discuss, and, hopefully, share solutions about the challenges faced by a city in the 21st century.
Another major event, also from Cannes, is MAPIC, more focused on the retailing part, but also attracting over 100 local authorities from 60 different countries. Some of the most prestigious awards of the real estate retailing world, such as the Best New Retail Concept or Best Retailer in City Center, are granted here each November, and dozens of excellent submissions are received every year. Cultural integration and the opportunities presented by digital technologies were some of the key points for the 2012 event, when the spotlight was on Russia, its growing real estate market, and its shifting consumer patterns.
Russia presents a lot of exciting new possibilities for investors and developers alike, and further evidence comes from Spain's Barcelona Meeting Point, another event that connects professionals in the real estate business, which has been organizing special Russian hubs for the past years, with great success. Barcelona Meeting Point has other unique advantages as well; while the Spanish retail market was one of the hardest hit during the recent economic downturn, the country never ceased to develop its touristic potential, and continues to invest in its elegant infrastructure, despite the financial hardships.
Counterpart to the European fair, MIPIM Asia is organized in Hong Kong, and concentrates on the specific needs and requirements of the Asian market, one of the most challenging, and also most rewarding in the past years. Keeping in line with the recent concerns expressed by the developers as well as by the authorities, MIPIM Asia focused on sustainable property in 2012, and had an entire pavilion dedicated to building innovations.
EXPO REAL has reached its 16th edition in Munich, Germany, and continues to grow year after year. One of the defining events of the real estate market for Central and Eastern Europe, EXPO REAL recognized the importance of the tourism industry in 2011, when the hotel operators benefited from a dedicated joint stand for the first time. In 2012, the size of that stand doubled, proving once more that this is one of the fastest growing areas on the real estate market.
In a way, real estate fairs are one of the things that keep a place alive. A town without any developing construction projects is a ghost town. But major developments do not happen overnight, and industry trade shows are a method to keep things buzzing, and to create an impression that something is happening – until something is actually happening. There is an undeniable link between the number of such major events organized in France and Germany, for example, and the fact that these countries had a stable evolution in the real estate sector, even when the rest of Europe was facing difficulties.
For participants and exhibitors, real estate fairs are, above all, a great opportunity to mingle and connect. After all, everything today is about connections and communication, and all the technology in the world cannot replace the power of human contact. Potential clients and partners have a completely new approach, once they can put a face on the e-mail contact, and relationships are strengthened after each new meeting at a trade fair.
Another significant advantage for all participants is that the budget for such events is relatively low, compared to the typical marketing budget, and the benefits are quickly visible and easily quantifiable. Overall, companies that start attending trade fairs rarely give up on them – and that's proof enough that the participation is worthwhile.