With 20% of South Korea’s population, a sophisticated, health-conscious, consumer market and local government investment of KRW1.833 trillion (EUR1,140,000,000) into public transport infrastructure, Seoul city should seem a logical location for a bicycle exhibition. But why doesn’t anyone go?
In spite of this peninsula nation sitting comfortably within the top 20 global economies and enjoying the same per-capita GDP as Italy (four times greater than neighbouring China), cycling has failed to capture broad-scale public imagination. In some respects, this is understandable. Any new visitor to Seoul will immediately notice two things after leaving one of the city’s two airports: cars and more cars. There would be few places in the world that appear as unappealing to ride safely on a bicycle.
However, change is underway. 1,200km of new cycling paths, spreading from Incheon in the northwest (one hour drive from Seoul downtown) to Busan in the southeast, are in development under a government-funded initiative to enthuse more of South Korea’s nearly 50 million citizens into healthier lifestyles.
Contemporary working professionals are ditching the ubiquitous golf clubs and heading out on expensive hardtail mountain bikes along the cycling paths of the mighty Han River. Road bike uptake, previously representing less than 10% of the bicycle market, is also increasing noticeably.
Seoul’s über-trendy (and often English-speaking) youth, fibre-optically hard-wired into global trends, are also embracing cycling in growing numbers. The fringe sub-cultures – fixed-gear bikes being a great example – are especially popular with these brand-savvy neophytes.
The Seoul Bike Show, most recently held at the gleaming COEX center in fashionable Gangnam-gu, attempted to provide a platform for international brands to engage this growing consumer base. Backed by numerous local government departments and the Korea Bicycle Import Incorporated Association, the show had sufficient financial support to succeed.
Unfortunately, the timing was terrible. Scheduled in December – mid-winter, and many months after new model-year product had been launched – until 2009, the show’s metrics were disappointing. Even at a relatively low cost of USD2,000 for a 3x3m booth, only 200 brands (note: individual exhibitors often display several brands) exhibited. Over the exhibition’s three days, 26,000 visitors attended; 3,000 of these were industry-related.
Compared with the 42,000 visitors (also over three days) and 500 exhibitors at Expobici – one of two national shows in Italy, the other being EICA, held in July – the published numbers may not appear too bad. However, anyone attending the show in Seoul – myself included – would have serious doubts about the published numbers.
After skipping 2010, the organizers shifted the show to March in 2011, but even that didn’t engage the industry nor the public. So how will the 2011 Korea World Bicycle Show, scheduled for 21-23 October at the Korea International Exhibition Center (KINTEX) in Ilsan city, Seoul, last the distance?
Firstly, the numbers look promising. According to the show’s secretariat, 150 exhibitors and 43,000 visitors attended the inaugural event in 2010, with targeted growth of 40% for 2011.
Moreover, the support base is robust. Three bicycle industry associations (including the Korea Bicycle Manufacturers Association) and five government departments are backing the 2011 event. Green Growth Korea, part of a multi-national organization focused on environmentally-sustainable industrial and economic growth, is also a major supporter.
Most importantly, the timing is favourable. Whilst peak summer conditions have passed, early adopters will have the opportunity to see some new-season models for the first time at the show – rather than unglamorously shoehorned into one of Seoul’s typically over-full bike stores.
However, if World Bike fails to succeed in spite of these positive factors, it may fall into the heap – alongside Bike Asia in Singapore and other dumped national exhibitions – leaving China Bicycle Show in Shanghai as the exclusive regional event. The proof will be in the attendance figures – hopefully not manipulated – after the show’s conclusion next week.
20-23 October, 2011 | KINTEX, Seoul