BY GRAEME KEMLO

It wasn’t all backslapping and self-congratulation but this year’s AIME press conference was full of plenty of good news.

It was hard to overcome years of referring to “em cee vee be”, the acronym for Melbourne’s convention and visitors bureau, but CEO of the newly re-branded Melbourne Convention Bureau, Karen Bolinger, hardly put a lip wrong in hosting the official AIME press conference.
She explained that the re-branding was “to make sure our name reflects exactly what we do” and referred to “reinvigorating” the organisation. She had the numbers right at hand to quantify the size of the task for MCB: helping to sell 197,930 square metres of conference space – “that’s equal to 10 MCGs” – and 15,049 accommodation rooms within walking distance – “one of the world’s premier business event destinations,” she argued.
Not that anyone was arguing; certainly not Sally de Swart, Reed Travel Exhibitions AIME director, who spoke of adding value to those who would buy and sell Melbourne – 507 hosted buyers, 196 new AIME exhibitors and “increased quality of visitors registered”.

The promised value-add she said was better industry engagement, more forums, a focus on business travel, on recruitment, and new technologies such as mobile apps and the opening-up of exhibitor diaries for visitor appointments – a popular first for AIME. She announced the dates for AIME 2014 – February 18-19 before handing over to colleague, Reed’s portfolio director, Craig Moyes, to discuss a bevy of acronyms for events he ran worldwide: EIBTM, GIBTM, IBTM, AIBTM and CIBTM. The smallest would be IBTM Mumbai in September with a tabletop buyer-meet-seller event for 100 suppliers and 100 buyers. But others were huge, like AIBTM which had moved to what he described as “the USA’s greatest meeting destination”- Chicago. Here he said 15,000 appointments were expected and 21 per cent of buyers who attended last year were interested in placing events – “many of them interested in placing events in Australia”.

For Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre CEO, Peter King, AIME 2013 marked just over one year in the job running Australia’s busiest meeting space. And, 17 years after the exhibition centre opened and four years after the conference centre was built, he spoke of “getting the platform right”. He said many of the technologies needed upgrading, adding “we will spend $30 million over the next five years just to retain technology leadership”.
And adjustments had been made to the types of events staged, such as making more use of the 5000-seat plenary for concerts, he said, nominating Carole King and Neil Young as examples…which drew laughter at the thought that these were safe audiences who wouldn’t trash the meetings venue.

He took the opportunity to again make a case for the extra 12,500 square metres of exhibition space the former Labor state government announced, but which had not been confirmed by Victoria’s new Liberal government. “We’re turning away 30 per cent of potential business,” he said, but added that he was hopeful that the budgetary planning would include a provision for the new build, reminding those at Spring Street that this would be another public private partnership with private capital.
Tourism Australia’s Andrew McEvoy rounded off the conference speaking about Melbourne as the new host of Dreamtime 2013 which he said would “bring 125 meeting planners and media to spend three days looking at the best of Australia.” They would come from China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Zealand, North America and the United Kingdom.

He discussed the Tourism 2020 strategy, describing it as “a yield strategy” with business events as one of the key elements to increase competitiveness and lift spending to “as much as $140 billion by the end of the decade.”
That meant the business events industry needed to grow revenue to $16 billion a year by 2020. He noted, however, that Australia was already ahead of the curve with overnight expenditure by business events visitors already exceeding $12.5 billion a year, up from $10.3 billion in 2010.
Despite predictions technology would reduce the need for meetings, Andrew McEvoy said, “There is more demand for face-to-face. Conventions are getting larger not smaller and Australia is one of the most desirable destinations on earth”.
He cited the main reasons international visitors come to Australia as: safety, the warm welcome and world-class natural beauty.

Plenty of smiles post-show

Following the AIME exhibition, the MCB’s Karen Bolinger was all smiles. With no official figures as yet on visitor numbers she said anecdotally she had heard that the quality of buyers was very good, and the visitors seemed very happy.
“Certainly I think the show looked fantastic – it was great to see everybody making such an effort,” she said.
“The education program was really well attended, and I think that was testament to the program content.
“The welcome party was a massive success. For us that’s our opportunity to showcase Melbourne. Logistically it was just enormous to do and I think it worked exceptionally well.”
Another clear winner was the Saxton Speakers Bureau’s fourth annual Ultimate Event Experience held on the morning of the second day. Nine high-profile speakers enthralled more than 1400 business event professionals.
And it wasn’t just visitors who got plenty of value from their experience. Many exhibitors were also thrilled with this year’s event.
Business development manager at the Darwin Convention Centre, Carrie Altamura, said AIME 2013 “was the most successful that we and the NT stand have had. Actually the entire stand was busy for the whole two days”.
Ms Altamura said the Darwin Convention Centre walked away with several leads for new business.
“By new business I mean conventions that we didn’t have in our database and weren’t aware of. In addition to this, the interest from Asia was the strongest yet. Most buyers had done their research before meeting with us. They were aware of where Darwin is located geographically and wanted to know more about the city.
“The continual theme was that they had exhausted their Asian destinations along with the major Australian capital cities, they are looking for other options within Australia and Darwin is of interest due to our proximity. When we pointed our strong long term cultural links to the region it only made the destination more attractive, so all in all we have some very strong leads to follow up.”

Business Events Week

Also launching at AIME was the inaugural Business Events Week, an initiative of the Melbourne Convention Bureau to promote the value and importance of business events to the wider community.
The concept was officially launched by the Federal Minister for Tourism and Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle. Running the week of AIME, Business Events Week featured more than 50 events across a broad spectrum of industries, with AIME the centrepiece.
Plans are to make Business Events Week a truly national program moving forward.

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