Birds were flying inside the building, the temperature inside was above 40 degrees Celsius and Martina Maciejewski needed a surgical mask because there was too much dust in the air at the Mumbai Exhibition Hall.
Ms. Maciejewski, from the German state of Bavaria, was organizing a trade exhibition.
She had 48 hours before it was supposed to open. But not everything was working the way she was used to it working in Europe. There were power cables without insulation, posters that were printed incorrectly, and the exhibitor’s offices still needed to be built.
“In Germany, everything is complete the night before,” Ms. Marciejewski said. In Mumbai, the last carpets are put down minutes before the opening ceremony.
In 2005 organizers from Germany put together only eight trade fairs in the country with 1.2 billion people. This year, there have been 41 – one-third more than last year.
Four years have passed since that chaotic scene, but Ms. Marciejewski still considers it typical for the exhibition world in India.
“In the end, everything always works out,” she said. “I first had to learn how to have the calmness needed.” For the past two years, Ms. Marciejewski, an India expert, has used her experience on the subcontinent in her role as an independent adviser.
There is a lot of interest in her work, because the Indian market is rapidly gaining in importance to the trade fair industry. In 2005 organizers from Germany put together only eight trade fairs in the country with 1.2 billion people. This year, according to the industry’s association Auma, there have been 41 – one-third more than last year. CeBIT, the world’s largest IT trade fair held in Hanover, will celebrate its Indian premiere this year.
In numbers of events, India is now, after China, the second-most important foreign market for German trade fairs. But the poor infrastructure and the lack of suitable facilities are slowing the growth.
Messe München, the Munich Trade Fair, got hints of that with the construction of bC India, the offshoot of the construction machinery trade fair Bauma. In Mumbai, the center of India’s trade fair industry, there is no location big enough to accommodate the 120,000-square-meter trade fair.
Messe München therefore rented an empty plot of land on the edge of the city and improvised.
“We had to lay power and water lines, build temporary halls, install air conditioners and lay carpets on uncovered ground, because otherwise it would have been too dusty,” said Eugen Egetenmeir, managing director of Messe München International.
For this year’s bC India, he found a better location near New Delhi. The backlog demand remains high. “In many cases, the existing exhibition facilities will not meet international needs,” Mr. Egetenmeir said.
German organizers have therefore taken the initiative to make the location more competitive.
Messe München, Messe Düsseldorf and Hanover-based Deutsche Messe are lobbying the government of new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to build for a trade fair center near the airport in Delhi. The project would have a 200,000-square-meter exhibition hall, making it India’s largest trade fair center by far.
“The quality of the infrastructure of the sites in India is not yet comparable to Western European standards.”
Mr. Egetenmeir is accompanying the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, on his trip to India to win support for the project.
The example they are following is the New International Expo Center in Shanghai, which the three German trade fairs built together with a Chinese partner.
In India, the companies do not want to invest themselves.
“We want to participate in the planning and operations,” said Mr. Egetenmeier. The businesses started a similar initiative in 2012. In the last months that then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in office, there was a political stalemate, and the Germans’ idea was put on hold.
They hope for a new beginning with the business-friendly Modi government.
“One can already see that the government approaches infrastructure projects with much more vigor,” said Mr. Egetenmeier.
Wolfgang Marzin, CEO of Messe Frankfurt, also hopes for better trade fair locations.
“The quality of the infrastructure of the sites in India is not yet comparable to Western European standards,” he said.
Transportation routes and frequent electrical outages would hurt the business, he added.
Two years ago, Messe Frankfurt decided to concentrate more on the Indian subcontinent.
“India counts among our key markets,” said Mr. Marzin.
Among other things, Messe Frankfurt is rapidly expanding through the purchase of several established trade fairs such as LED Expo. In 2013, they only did four trade fairs in India. This year they are organizing nine, and in 2015 they are planning 14.
And their competition is also expanding. The Deutsche Messe wants to establish one of the best-known trade fair brands with CeBIT.
The IT trade fair will take place in India for the first time in November. Through the trade fair, the company hopes to participate in India’s fast-growing IT sector.
In 2015, India will be the official partner country of the Deutsche Messe. According to a company spokeswoman, that should not only attract Indian companies to Hanover, but should also raise the profile of the trade fairs in Lower Saxony in India.
Mathias Peer is based in Bangkok and writes for Handelsblatt about India and southeast Asia. To contact him: email@example.com