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Does anyone care about the Shanghai World Expo 2010?


The Chinese are buzzing about next year’s World Expo in Shanghai. But Aussie expat Andrew Collins thinks the locals are underwhelmed. Nevertheless, commercial opportunities abound for local and foreign businesses.

A big question I’m getting asked more and more now is, “Will the Chinese go to the Shanghai World Expo 2010?” But the real question is, “Do the real Chinese actually care about it?”

Fortunately the powers that be do – they have a lot on the line from an international standpoint. It is reflected in the amount of road works going on right now all across Shanghai, the media spend on outdoor billboards blanketed with Expo promotional messages and the growing number of tender opportunities.

The investment is large and China has a great opportunity to show the world what a progressive country it can be – anyone who saw the Beijing opening and closing ceremonies in 2008 would appreciate that.

I have remained on the fence, but the more I think about it the more I feel, rightly or wrongly, that the bulk of the local population (including from Shanghai) simply won’t go and potentially couldn’t care less about it at all.

The key factor influencing why I believe the locals won’t embrace the Shanghai EXPO 2010 is:

Overindulgence and a basic need of survival

Indulgence is something most of us are guilty of on an hourly basis. Simply sipping that cup of latte or the extra cardio workout would constitute an expression of overindulgence to over 95 percent of China’s population.

The fact is, now more than ever they live a needs-based lifestyle. It seems to me that they simply do what is absolutely required of them to complete their days – overspending on gifts, food and more personal luxuries is not an option. What is popular is saving what you have and enjoying basic things with your family. They just don’t need to go to the Expo and they don’t see the point.

And, to be honest, I don’t blame them at all. Given the repercussions that followed the Mao period of the 1960s, this generation of Chinese baby boomers is holding on to whatever they have. Things were taken away and equalised. Any sign of luxury, overindulgence or simply having more was forbidden and cause for punishment.

The next generation is another story, but we are still at least two decades away from their culture having a profound influence on mainstream Chinese society. This younger, more aggressive, urban, trend-setting group seems to be a lot more into its own personal interests and less fixated on pursuing cultural and international agendas. Perhaps this is a function of youth, but the contrast is particularly stark in China.

Even so, I still believe the traffic will flock to Expo 2010. The local government has a lot riding on this, so I’m certain every school within a 300km radius will attend. Additionally, many foreigners will be curious and the privileged guests will make up a significant number.

Those looking to capitalise on the influx of traffic to Shanghai or simply the array of tender opportunities open to the market had better be quick, as the majority of applications involving government tenders have been passed. Opportunities still remain with independent country pavilions, but again these have been eagerly courted by experienced players on the ground here in China.

A little like a gold rush, the Expo has bought China a lot of international attention. But like any great rush, it’s the locals that are most likely to win the high stakes.

If you get the chance of combining a trip to Shanghai during the World Expo, take it. It’s sure to showcase a nation on the move.

Andrew Collins is CEO of Mailman China, a leading alternative media company based in Shanghai. An entrepreneur from the age of 10, Andrew has been involved responsible for various ventures, from trading marbles to establishing an M&A consulting company at the age of 25. He recently launched www.ZeroSocialMedia.com