New Zealand Trade and Enterprise has axed its involvement in Cebit – for many years the world's largest technology trade show. The move means Kiwi companies seeking to exhibit at the event in Hanover, Germany must go it alone. Trade and Enterprise says it will still support firms keen to expand overseas. The agency has spent more than $2.5 million in the past five years on marketing Kiwi firms at Cebit and on its stand. That had been a source of bragging rights for government officials after the Australian media repeatedly rubbished their country's effort at the fair in comparison to New Zealand's. It is understood one company, Auckland server technology firm Thureon, was at Cebit last week, but was represented by its European staff. Immigration New Zealand, which has sent staff to Cebit in recent years, has also pulled out of the show. Trade and Enterprise ICT operations director Richard Laverty says attendance and exhibitor numbers at Cebit had dropped. Trade and Enterprise struggled to find enough Kiwi firms to attend last year to justify its investment – although that was partly due to the recession. Mr Laverty says Cebit has become more focused on consumer electronics. "It's getting broader and therefore harder to make an impact." The decision to pull out is not a cost-cutting exercise, but Trade and Enterprise is keen to ensure it is getting value for money, he says. Forty-eight Kiwi companies paid their own way to attend Cebit with Trade and Enterprise over five years, and 12 firms attended more than once. "Pretty much everybody got good or really valuable introductions there." It is possible some firms will lose out by not getting the exposure Cebit attendees have benefited from but Trade and Enterprise can still help, Mr Laverty says. "Not being at Cebit should in no way be construed as us backing off ... we're just doing it differently and I believe more effectively." The department is focusing on working directly with companies to develop connections and promote themselves in the European market. "A lot of companies have been saying `They [trade shows] are nice, but we would rather have help meeting these particular people in France', for example." It is helping Auckland firm Optima – which makes scheduling software for emergency services – establish connections in France, Spain and Germany, and was working with Thureon at Cebit to arrange meetings with potential buyers and partners. Auckland touch-screen technology firm NextWindow has exhibited at Cebit for the past four years. Chief executive Al Monro says it could not have gone alone. "Having the New Zealand pavilion there gave us the opportunity to punch above our weight. We got good business from it in the first couple of years. Some of the partners we made then are still our partners today." Some companies may be disappointed by Trade and Enterprise's move but it is probably the right one, he says. NextWindow had already decided not to return to Cebit. "As it's getting smaller it's trying to do more. You get a lot of people there but it's hard to know what they're there for." NZICT chief executive Brett O'Riley says a targeted approach means Trade and Enterprise should be able to do a better job of matching IT firms to specific opportunities. "My one question would be whether you can still reach enough companies under that approach. If you're stepping out for the first time into a particular market will you be able to get some assistance or will you have to get in line behind the others?" Ten New Zealand firms attended Cebit last year – down from 15 the previous year. Exhibitor attendance at this year's show was forecast to be about half of its peak of 8100 in 2001. Visitor numbers were expected to be flat at 400,000.
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