This is my first time at EXPO and I'm somewhat overwhelmed. Now I've been to trade fairs in my time, most notably of course my annual (indeed, sometimes twice yearly) pilgrimage to that well-known destination on the French Riviera. But, and I say this hand on heart, I have never ever seen exhibition stands as large, or as imposing, or as slick (in terms of gizmos and models) as at EXPO.
Most of them are double-decker jobs, with serious engineering and lighting. Perhaps somewhat less ramped up on the hospitality front than at MIPIM, but like a turbo-charged version, with serious money palpable (you could cut it with a knife) and none of that rather endearing still-setting-up-well-into-the-first-day nonsense, everything is organised with Teutonic efficiency from the outset.
And serious German and Dutch and American and Russian players are all thoroughly engaged in serious debate and serious actual deal making (admittedly though, I didn't see anyone from India or Brazil or any of the other emerging markets). You will surmise from all this that there is but one word that I would use to sum up EXPO Real: it is serious.
Apparently there are 800 Brits milling around the conference centres and exhibition halls of the Messe Munchen. Well you sure could have fooled me! I have seen a goodly many familiar faces, but in nothing like the sort of numbers I was expecting. Or that I'm used to.
Now, one interpretation of this is that the UK peeps are all out actively doing their jobs with foreign investors, not - as with so many trade fairs - merely spending huge amounts of wonga simply to network with folk they see every week at home. This is a positive reading of the situation. But the other side of this coin is that for the foreign investor looking to invest in the UK (increasingly attractive, with its stable democracy and legal system) there is no go-to place. No stand, no focus, no cheery welcome, no proffered mug of English breakfast tea.
The noble and notable exception is Edinburgh City Council which is out on the front foot, big style, at EXPO with a simply splendid stand and doing a lot of business as a result. And I had an excellent meeting with Belfast City Council yesterday, which was there on a fact finding mission.
But our other 64 cities were notable by their absence; extraordinarily there wasn't even a London presence. One stand had a full-size model of a red London Routemaster bus and I beetled up to it expectantly, but bizarrely it seemed to be housing a group of mainly German companies. It was not the London stand, far from it. In fact there was no London stand. There was no Manchester or Birmingham stand either, let alone any of our smaller cities, all of whom could surely do with a bit of inward investment. Shame really! There's plenty of folk at that show this week who want to "buy a bit of Britain". Perhaps we should try something new? And perhaps the more serious tone of EXPO Real might be culturally more attuned to hard-pressed UK local authorities. After all, growth stats for the UK this morning say it all: serious times call for serious measures.