As India becomes a global force in the world economy, many show organizers are choosing to hold trade fairs and exhibitions in one of its many exhibition sites not only in Delhi and Mumbai, but at other facilities in cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, or Chennai.
While as a country India is attractive to the business community, India also presents a number of challenges to western exhibitors who are accustomed to a particular way of doing business.
The planning stage is critical when deciding on exhibiting in India. A key item on the planning agenda should be a site visit that includes a one-on-one meeting with the organizers. Although many multinational trade groups commission shows in India, the boots-on-the-ground work is done locally—and subject to local customs and practices. You might experience frustration with the limited information you get from the local organizer.
Booking a hotel should be done immediately, and on the site visit, an inspection of the property and discussion of transportation options to and from the exhibition site should be part of the visit. Hotel rooms at English-speaking four- or five-star hotels near a venue sell out well ahead of major shows, so make reservations at least six months to a year in advance. Setting a very detailed budget for participation in the exhibition will also be much easier as a result of the site visit. Meetings in India can be costly. Taxes are very high.
Obtaining visas for India is a lengthy process and should start early. Learn what you need: visa applications include a business vs. a conference visa. Obtain a letter of participation; this is required. The same is true for making sure everyone has the proper vaccinations (hepatitis, typhoid, malaria) and immunizations.
Based on our experience, organizers in India do not have the level of, well, organization, that westerners are used to. You might find yourself having to push a little. Whatever you do, don’t be lured into using third-party ‘facilitators’ who promise to deliver funds to appropriate parties. Not all these people are honest, and you might find, when you arrive at the expo, that some of your fees have not been paid. Going directly to the source—the organizer, the hotel, the contractors—is always best.
Let’s step back and look at a few facts about India:
- India joined the World Trade Organization (W.T.O.) in 1995.
- 1.2 billion people live in India.
- India has the 7th largest world economy—and is predicted to have the largest economy by 2050.
- The predominant languages are Hindi and English.
- Be aware that many other languages are spoken in addition to English and Hindi: Assamese and 17 other regional languages.
- Currently, India is experiencing a 7.7% annual growth, with a 10% annual tradeshow growth.
Exhibitors coming to India from other parts of the world would do well to remember:
- Do some research on India’s unique culture.
- Don`t assume anything; in some parts of the world, handshake deals are enough. Not in India.
- Find local support you can rely on—like Idea International.
- Understand that in India, bargaining and negotiation are a way of life.
- Manage your expectation: be specific when you communicate, and if possible, use examples.
- Do extensive briefing for colleagues from other parts of the world who will be part of your exhibition staff.
- Indians enjoy light conversation before delving into business negotiations.
- As in many other APAC countries, you should greet the person with the highest-level title first, or if title is not apparent, the oldest person.
Essential facts about the exhibiting process
- Don’t ship any products. If you must ship products, allow ample time for customs.
- All products shipped into India must be accompanied by shipping manifests with detailed information regarding the contents. If the proper paperwork is not completed, shipments can be held up indefinitely.
- You will be using materials and displays common to the region—not necessarily what you are used to.
- Labor is slow and cheap. Tools are very primitive; the sets tend to be short.
- There is centralized storage.
- Get carnet/pro-forma for temporary import.
- Many details will be ironed out on site. Again, it is essential to have an experienced exhibit partner who understands this and is skilled at this type of negotiation.
- India operates on 220-240 volts, and electric sockets typically require three round pins. Bring adapters and transformers from home.
- Garbage is often cleared by organizers, a service sometimes included in booth-space rental costs. Booth-cleaning services can usually be ordered from the show organizer.
- In-booth hospitality is common with a typical service including hot and cold non-alcoholic beverages with cookies and pastries. Many people in India are vegetarians, so avoid meat. Alcohol is usually not offered.
- Business attire for both men and women is appropriate. Women should cover as much skin as possible and avoid short skirts and low-cut tops. Piercings (other than traditional earrings) and tattoos should be concealed, and jewelry should be minimal.
- There are no unions, and workers should be hired through an exhibit builder or the show organizer. Be aware that some vendor listings in the show manual may be paid advertisements.
- Exhibitors may set up their own booths, but if you decide to hire labor, do so through a reputable vendor.
- India’s workday is eight to nine hours. Beyond that, arrangements must be made with the contractor.
- The vast majority of local workers do not speak English, so it is always important to have one bilingual worker during I&D.
- Hanging signs are usually prohibited.
- Fabric is used infrequently because of the dust in the venues.
Some cultural tips:
- Learn the role religion plays in the lives of the people.
- Wear appropriate clothing—learn what that is before you leave.
- Understand your travel options are car, bus, taxi, moped, rickshaw, bicycle, and elephant. The road conditions are daunting to visitors. Normal traffic congestion makes it advisable to stay near the venue.
- Be aware that many urban areas in India are heavily polluted and poor air quality is frequently a problem. Bring medication if you have asthma, allergies, or other respiratory conditions.
- Enjoy the local foods (naan!) and spices (mustard, garlic, cumin, curry, coconut)
- A woman must extend her hand first—otherwise, men won’t shake hands.
- Thieves work the convention and tourist areas, so leave your jewelry and expensive electronics at home.