At its K 2022 booth, Shandong Donglin New Materials Co. Ltd. was trying a creative workaround for COVID-19 travel problems — sales staff were sitting in their offices back in China, waiting to video chat on three terminals the company set up in its K booth.
They were doing that because Donglin, which makes PVC additives, could not send any staff from China to K.
The last time the show was held, in 2019, Donglin sent seven employees.
Vice President Guilai Li pointed to two reasons for zero staff from China this time: long COVID-19 quarantines when they'd return China and delays in getting visas from the German government.
People traveling into China are still required to quarantine in a hotel for seven to 10 days, meaning staff would face that upon their return. So the company hired Chinese and English speakers living in Germany as temporary help to work in the booth and then video chat for more detailed questions.
Speaking with Plastics News over a video connection from his office back in China — where it was after 10 p.m. for him — Li was trying to put his best face on the problem, saying Donglin should have applied for visas sooner.
"We applied for the visa too late, so we couldn't get them in time," he said.
A few booths over, Hanson Lin and colleagues at Guangzhou Lushan New Materials Co. Ltd. made the trip from China but were not taking any chances.
Lin and his coworkers were all wearing medical-grade masks as they tried to interest customers in their materials for solar cell encapsulation films, polyolefin hot melt adhesive films, optical films and other products.
"We need to keep healthy," Lin said. "When we get back to China, we need to quarantine for seven days."
He admitted to being a little worried about the return but said it was important to be at K, the largest plastics show in the world.
This year, four Lushan staff made the trip. At the 2019 show, five came, so for Lushan it could be argued the impact was relatively minimal.
Not so for plastic film manufacturer Zhejiang Kinlead Innovative Materials Co. Ltd., which makes biaxially oriented polypropylene film, cast film and metalized film.
There was only one person in the booth, its representative based in Germany, Paul Liang.
Three executives from China who planned on being at K decided not to make the trip, including its CEO. Quarantining on their return was a factor.
"Ten days in a hotel, there's no way around it," Liang said. "And you cannot even choose the hotel. In some places, the hotels are not very customer-friendly, let's just say that.
"Especially for top executives, it's not something they want to do," he said.
Liang said he was working hard to make up the difference. He handles the European market, so for those customers, it was fine.
But for customers from Asia, Africa or other places, there were details Liang may have not immediately known.
"They ask me if we have agents there or what is the price for transport [in those markets], this kind of information I don't possess," he said. "So, I need to contact my people in Asia and China. With the time zones, it's difficult."
COVID-19 quarantines weren't the only reason for not coming, he said.
Kinlead is very busy now, since it is opening a new factory in Vietnam to make BOPP film, and the CEO wanted to be close by for that, he said.
"She's just too busy to stay 10 days in a hotel," Liang said.
The organizers of show, Messe Düsseldorf, acknowledged those challenges cited by the exhibitors. In a news release, Messe Düsseldorf noted "current difficult conditions … due to quarantine regulations in their own countries when returning from overseas or major delays in issuing visas."
In an Oct. 18 news conference the day before the show opened, organizers said the number of Chinese companies at the show was down from 369 in 2019 to 308 this year.
A smaller Chinese presence would be noticed, given China's market size.
China was the largest maker of plastics and rubber machinery worldwide in 2021, with a 35 percent market share, Messe Düsseldorf said. Germany ranked second with 19.6 percent of the market, which is valued worldwide at €38.6 billion, it said.
As well, China overtook Germany last year as the largest exporter of plastics and rubber machines, with a 23.9 percent share. Germany had a 22 percent share of global trade in that machinery, Messe Düsseldorf said.
Some Chinese machinery executives made the trip, but many prominent ones did not.
Chen Hsong Chairman and CEO Lai Yuen Chiang came to K, although for her, the quarantine rules returning to her home in Hong Kong were not as strict.
Still, the company brought sales staff from mainland China — the bulk of its factories are in China, and its China-based staff would face those quarantines. During a booth interview, one salesperson mentioned his flight home to China had been canceled and he'd not yet been able to book a return.
Chiang said Chen Hsong was prepared for problems.
"K is a show that any serious manufacturer won't miss," she said. "Some of them have to go through quarantine. Some of them have to go through different routes, but we still believe this.
"Exhibiting here is important for us, and looking at developments of our peers is important," she said. "We have decided we are going to put a lot of resources into it."