CeBit aims to entice cash-strapped consumers

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Europe’s biggest technology fair CeBit aims to entice cash-conscious business customers with software aimed at coping with the recession while itself continuing to experience a hemorrhage of trade-exhibitors.

Exhibitors prepare shelves of plasma screens for the upcoming CeBIT fair inside a hall in Hanover March 1, 2009. The world's biggest IT fair CeBIT with 4300 exhibitors from 69 countries opens its doors to the public from March 3 until March 8, 2009. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Launched in 1986 in the northern German city of Hanover, CeBit has lost ground both to the more gadget-oriented Berlin rival IFA - a summer fair that has increasingly drawn consumers -- and to its U.S. competitor CES, whose annual show has the advantage of being two months earlier.

Nevertheless, Deutsche Messe, which organizes CeBit and other German trade fairs, said it expected to draw some 495,000 visitors to this week’s technology trade exhibition, despite a 25 percent drop in vendors to a level last seen in 1990.

“Given the depth of the world economic crisis, this number of 4,300 (exhibitors) represents a success,” said Ernst Raue, a Deutsche Messe managing board member.

CeBit can even boast of Hollywood glitter this year, since California’s official partnership means the U.S. state’s Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, will travel to Hanover to officially open the fair on Monday night with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The high-tech sector is still pretty well positioned compared with other industries,” said Bernd Rohledder, managing director of IT industry association Bitkom.


An important trend this year will be what organizers call Webciety, short for WorldWideWeb society, taking account of the central role the Internet is now taking in social, economic and political spheres through blogs, social networks and Web-based software.

CeBit will once again highlight green technology, a favorite topic at major technology events, as IT overtakes aviation in terms of its carbon footprint.

This year’s green IT section will be five times larger than last year in response to growing interest by companies in reducing energy costs.

Another key theme is e-health, where technology is used to monitor patients at home, to create networks among hospitals or to digitize patient data aimed at cutting soaring health insurance costs.

As far as gadgets go, the fair has largely banished high-tech gimmicks but has made some room for popular netbooks -- pared-down, light, inexpensive notebooks made for easy Web browsing on the go first launched by Asus.


Regulars such as German software giant SAP and Deutsche Telekom, which traditionally announces new prices and packages at the fair, will make their way to CeBit, and Telekom’s designated new finance chief Timotheus Hoettges said his company had not reduced its budget for the trade show.

But gone are swanky evening events and elaborate exhibition stands by the likes of Nokia and O2, who prefer Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress to CeBit.

The largest number of vendors dropping out of CeBit are from China, Taiwan and South Korea, according to Raue.

“A lot of these smaller companies have closed down,” the Deutsche Messe board member explained, adding he was looking forward to a very efficient fair with less company marketing.

Toshiba, Samsung and Kyocera have also opted to skip the fair this year, but Raue said some 300 companies had rejoined the ranks of CeBit exhibitors for the first time in several years, including Nokia Siemens Networks and eCommerce specialist Intershop.

Another 200 companies are making their CeBIT debut.

CeBit has drawn a number of high-profile managers from the international IT sector to attend its conference panels, including SAP’s co-CEO Leo Apotheker, Alcatel-Lucent’s CEO Ben Verwaayen, Intel chairman Craig Barrett, Skype’s COO Scott Durchslag, LinkedIn’s chairman Reid Hoffman and Xing’s new CEO Stefan Gross-Selbeck.

Editing by Will Waterman