Olympex: Olympic Expo Beijing 2008 : A Report From the Front Line

The following is a letter from David Maiden sent to Glen Stephens and then posted on www.stampboards.com on August 14, 2008, Day 7 of the Games. Additional photographs may be viewed at the Australia Post website.

I am writing this on the afternoon of Day 3 of Olympic Expo, seated at a desk in Max Stern’s Booth in Hall 7 ( Postal Administrations and Dealers) of the Expo.

I want to try and capture the excitement of the moment in words.

Australia Post booth at OlympexThere are 34 booths in Hall 7 and every booth is three deep with customers, and most have queues 10 to 15 metres long, waiting to buy. Everywhere I look there is a frenzy of activity. The air is electric and I can hardly hear myself think as booth holders and their wonderful volunteer staff literally run back and forth from counter to stock shelf to serve the sea of customers.

The Opening Day ( Friday afternoon) was very good in terms of attendance, and Day Two (Saturday) was excellent, but today has been truly outstanding. It seems like everyone in Beijing who is not at a sporting event is here. Official figures are not available yet, but a straw poll I have taken amongst experienced booth holders suggests we have had at least 40,000 people through in two and half days already.

Despite the frenzy of activity, the organisation and order is excellent, thanks to the volunteer guides ( 1000 of them ) and to the overwhelming friendliness of the Beijingers, who are celebrating a special time for their city and nation.

In December, I wrote to postal administrations and dealers on behalf of the IOC and provided my assessment that China Post and the IOC had all the right settings in place for a succesful event.

Never in my most optimistic moments could I have imagined how succesful it would be. China Post and the IOC have pulled out all stops to make this Expo an absolute show stopper. It is the best conducted and best attended I have ever seen.

Its not just the large crowds and the level of sales, it’s the entire organistion and operation of the Expo that is so impressing everyone. For example:

  • Booth holders were met at the airport and transported to the official hotels( what a contrast to the days when Commissioners and Judges were met and the trade had to make their own way );
  • Registration/accreditation was waiting for booth holders when they checked into the hotel;
  • A social programme of dinners and tours was offered on arrival;
  • Those booth holders who shipped their stock with the official freight forwarder, Schenker, received it within 30 minutes of arriving at the Expo, without any Customs hassles;
  • Volunteer staff ( bilingual) have been available to work in booths at no charge. These young people( University students and /or staff from China Post) have impressed everyone with their friendliness and their hard work.
  • Lunch is provided each day free of charge;
  • A team of cleaners are working all day in the Hall to keep the booths and aisles clean;
  • Visitors passes and complimentary tickets to Olympic events have been made available to booth holders;
  • Booth rental is free and no customs duties are payable. Olympic Expo is unlike any past Olymphilex. It truly is a new beginning.

The huge Beijing Exhibition Centre is divided into three broad areas: in the middle hall ( entrance) is a most impresssive display from the IOC Museum in Lausanne; paintings, sculptures, medals, torches, uniforms, movies etc.

Olympex exhibit displayThe halls to the left contain the competative philatelic exhibits which have been displayed in the most attractive manner I have ever seen anywhere. Each frame has a panel of coloured perspex above and below it, and huge posters of Olympic athletes and Olympic stamps hand from the ceiling to add further colour and interest.

The halls to the right contain:

  • Postal administrations/mints and dealers
  • Olympic sponsor displays eg BHP has an exhibit of aboroginal art
  • Coke pin trading centre
  • Official auction display
  • A display of the philatelic collection of Honourary IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Who are the customers and what are they buying?

For the first 2.5 days, the customers have predominantly been “casual collectors”; people who want a philatelic/numismatic memory of the Games. The Passport is a huge success, and the average spend per customer is about 30 RMB ( about $5 USD), although high quality Olympic themed albums/collections priced at about $50 USD are selling well. A number of booth holders are already sending home for extra stock. To date there have been few customers who are serious philatelists, or perhaps they have not been able to get through the crowds.

Many families are attending, and it seems that about two thirds of the customers are female. Its clear that the customers have come for an Olympic experience. Games tickets are as scarce as hens teeth, and Olympic Expo provides an an entertaining,low cost, way of attending an official Olympic activity.

It’s now 4pm, and I have had to interrupt writing this several times during the day to go and assist Max Stern, and the Greek Post Office tear stamps to keep up with the incessant demand. Max has 5 people in his booth working flat out, and the Greeks have 9 staff, and crowds of 3 and 4 deep continue to surround the booth. I have just borrowed a string of small flags from Maxine Cannon at the Isle of Man booth to make a queueing system to help manage the crowds at Max’s booth.

I can’t believe I am about to write this , but lets hope there are fewer customers tomorrow!

David Maiden

PS I am sending this on Tuesdsay morning. Monday, Day Four, was not quite as hectic as the weekend, but it was still busy and constant; 8,000-10,000 came through.

(David Maiden was asked by the International Olympic Committee and China Post to provide advice on the organisation of Olympic Expo, particularly from the point of view of foreign booth holders. He was Group Manager Philatelic for Australia Post from 1991 to 2002, Special Olympic Advisor to the Greek Post from 2003-04, and is a Member of the Australian Philatelic Order.)