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Game Not Over for Hong Kong Toy Show Despite Coronavirus Concerns

This year's HKTDC Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair dodged cancellation on account of the coronavirus by the narrowest of margins, resulting in an event that was well-attended and upbeat about the prospects for the global toy community.

Photo: Marching steelily on in the face of adversity: The 2020 HKTDC Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair.
Marching steelily on in the face of adversity: The 2020 HKTDC Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair.
Photo: Marching steelily on in the face of adversity: The 2020 HKTDC Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair.
Marching steelily on in the face of adversity: The 2020 HKTDC Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair.

Although the HKTDC Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair took place a mere six weeks ago, it seems an eternity away, considering everything that has happened in China and the rest of Asia in the interim. Back then, the existence of the coronavirus had yet to be even acknowledged. With hindsight, had the epidemic gone public even just a few weeks earlier, it would have wreaked havoc on the show, perhaps even resulting in the event being cancelled.

A similar fate has now befallen Shenzhen's Toy & Edu China show, which was originally scheduled for the first week of March. While its postponement will have cost organiser Messe Frankfurt dearly, it was clearly left with no choice in the circumstances. It now appears increasingly likely that April's Canton Fair – China's largest and longest-established expo – will meet the same fate or, at the very least, be considerably scaled back.

Although this year's Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair was not directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak, it did suffer from the wave of protests that had taken place in Hong Kong in the run-up to Christmas. As a result, some of the larger retailers and manufacturers were notable by their absence this time around.

However, while it's fair to say that some international visitors didn't make it this year – and others chose to hold their meetings in Shenzhen rather than Hong Kong – the vast majority actually decided to attend regardless. Indeed, throughout the duration of the event, the talk among international visitors was more about jet lag than civil unrest. Some things, it seems, never change.

There was, however, no denying that Hong Kong itself had changed somewhat. It was noticeably quieter for one thing – and not just because of a shortfall in the number of representatives of the international toy community. Lan Kwai Fong, usually one of Hong Kong's busiest bar districts, was notably subdued on the Saturday evening, while the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui were slightly less frantic than in previous years. As, indeed, were the aisles of the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair.

In terms of quality, rather than quantity, however, this thankfully wasn't a major issue for most exhibitors. While the vast majority of the key retail buyers and importers were in attendance, many of those who walked the showfloor also remarked that the design of the China-made products seemed to be coming on in leaps and bounds, making a trip to the show well worth the effort, especially for those suppliers looking to source new vendor factories.

Overall, the four HKTDC fairs simultaneously taking place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre – the Toys & Games Fair, the International Licensing Show, the Baby Products Fair and the International Stationery Fair – attracted a total of about 108,000 buyers from 130 countries and regions. The Toys & Games Fair alone attracted 41,400 buyers, while the other three shows also notched up respectable numbers – the Baby Products Fair (28,200), the Licensing Show (20,000) and the Stationery Fair (17,800).

Photo: A far from Mickey Mouse event.
A far from Mickey Mouse event.
Photo: A far from Mickey Mouse event.
A far from Mickey Mouse event.
Photo: Amazing Toys: From Hong Kong, of course.
Amazing Toys: From Hong Kong, of course.
Photo: Amazing Toys: From Hong Kong, of course.
Amazing Toys: From Hong Kong, of course.

Such healthy numbers were due in no small part to the HKTDC's proactive strategy ahead of the event. Its allocation of resources ensured buyers from all around the world were not only invited but reassured that their visit would be a wholly safe one. In all, more than 200 buying missions were organised, resulting in an increase in the number of buyers from several markets – notably Israel, Russia, Turkey, Spain and Argentina.

While there may have been some absentees from mainland China, the usual British and European contingent, at the very least, was for the most part all present and correct. Despite this, it's probably fair to say that some of the delegations were pared back a little. One of the largest UK retailers, for instance, sent four people this year, far fewer than the 10 that attended in 2019. This, though, is quite possibly a trend that will be replicated on a worldwide basis and may impact on all toys shows no matter where they are held.

By the same token, it remains undeniable that Hong Kong is – and will continue to be – a pivotal destination for major retail buyers and importers. It is, after all, where they source new lines for the coming year, while also meeting potential new vendors and factory management teams. In many ways, there is no substitute for actually meeting these potential new partners and seeing new lines on a first-hand basis, with the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair providing the ideal opportunity to do just that.

Throughout the event, the relief among the Chinese toy community that the US-China tariff situation had been resolved was almost palpable. Naturally, some had already made contingency plans – with Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia most frequently cited as potential alternative manufacturing locations – but most had clearly hoped that a Plan B would never become a necessity. Ironically, events since the show could potentially see those discussions revived, pending future developments with the coronavirus and its likely impact on mainland factories.

So, despite the challenges and tribulations, Hong Kong emerged largely unscathed. This is partly down to the fact that the Toys & Games Fair has a number of in-built advantages. It is the first show of the toy fair season, taking place only a few short weeks after the conclusion of the festive period. Accordingly, by the time attendees actually arrive in Hong Kong, a picture of how Christmas trading went for retailers and suppliers will have begun to emerge.

Photo: Baulch: “Coming on in leaps and bounds”.
Baulch: “Coming on in leaps and bounds”.
Photo: Baulch: “Coming on in leaps and bounds”.
Baulch: “Coming on in leaps and bounds”.

Hong Kong is also where people first start to discuss the results of the previous year, identifying the winners and losers, discussing trading strengths and weaknesses and assessing the implications for the coming year. Absenting yourself from Hong Kong in January inevitably cuts you out of these conversations and leaves you dependent on picking up such information on a second-hand basis. Ultimately, it's always better to be part of the debate and to have your own say than relying on the rumour mill.

The Hong Kong event also benefits from the surge in enthusiasm that always greets a new trading year. Those who have just enjoyed a broadly positive 12 months are looking to continue their momentum. Meanwhile, in the case of those who didn't have the best of years, there is the opportunity to draw a line under all that and start afresh.

For 2020, however, while the traditional upbeat mood prevailed, the events of the previous 12 months meant it was somewhat tempered. The toy community, for one, knows that significant challenges still lie ahead.

The 2020 HKTDC Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair took place from 6-9 January at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

John Baulch is the Publisher of Toy World,
the UK's leading toys and games trade publication

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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