The centrepiece of Business Events Week 2014, the 22nd instalment of AIME welcomed new buyers and old friends and shined a spotlight on the importance of business events.
By Lauren Arena with additional reporting from Brad Foster and Graeme Kemlo.
Business events may not be “sexy” but the sector plays a critical role in tourism and innovation, as Melbourne Convention Bureau chief, Karen Bolinger, declared at the official opening of Business Events Week in February, where the Asia-Pacific Incentives and Meetings Expo (AIME) featured as the headlining event.
Sexy or not, business events are one of the highest yielding sectors in Australia’s visiting economy, reports the 2013 Melbourne Convention Delegate Study.
“International delegates spend twice as much as the leisure tourist, spending more than $1019 a day on accommodation, dining out, domestic air travel and recreational activities in Melbourne,” Ms Bolinger said.
And it’s the spending habits of international conference delegates, most of whom hail from Asia and India (49 per cent of international delegates come from Asia), that make the business events sector key to Australia’s future wealth and prosperity.
Now in its fourth edition, the delegate study covers the period from May to December 2013, collecting data from 3846 surveys completed by delegates from 150 countries – the largest sample size in the history of the study.
The study also highlighted the important role the sector plays in attracting new visitors to Australia as more than 70 per cent of delegates surveyed had never been to Australia prior to attending the conference and, most importantly, 76 per cent said they would return.
“The findings from the study all provide evidence of the significant economic value of conferences, which presents a strong business case to local and state government and other stakeholders to continue to support and invest in the industry,” Ms Bolinger said.
“The value of major international conferences is often overshadowed in the media by sexier consumer-focused events such as the Australian Open and the Australian Grand Prix yet they provide the same, if not more, economic benefit.”
According to Business Events Week ambassador, Professor Ian Chub, there’s a significant ROI in knowledge exchange.
“Conferences are where information and research is fertilised and where ideas are formulated and used for the benefit of humankind.
“Without knowing what we know, we wouldn’t be able to do anything… so real returns are in knowledge exchange.”
Other events involved in Business Events Week included the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Youth Forum and Business Exchange, MEA Educational Events presented by the Australian Events Academy, Associations Forum CEO Symposium, and MCEC’s public event Open Space, which showcased the centre’s creative and versatile event spaces.
Collaboration is the key
Strategic partnerships and professional development were at the heart of this year’s AIME, according to Reed Travel Exhibitions director for AIME, Jacqui Timmins.
In an effort to remain competitive and relevant, Ms Timmins said AIME 2014 focused on collaboration – having established partnerships with the Australian Federation for Travel Agents (AFTA) and Sabre Pacific, a global travel technology company – to support future growth of the industry and open the event up to new audiences.
Attendance figures revealed 54 per cent of the 492 hosted buyers at the show were attending for the first time. There was also an 18 per cent increase in the number of domestic hosted buyers and an overall increase of 0.61 per cent compared to last year’s event.
“The economy has forced us to work smarter in order to remain relevant,” Ms Timmins said.
“That’s why our focus for 2014 and beyond is about partnerships – this means leveraging the experience and knowledge of others to continue to identify new and improved ways to work towards the greater good of the industry.”
As such, the Sabre-sponsored Innovation Zone made its debut on the show floor this year, showcasing new event technologies.
One company leading the charge in terms of technology is Haycom, which not only introduced some innovative products, but revealed its new brand image and business direction.
“Haycom is coming out of a transformative year, with the successful merger with t7 Event Solutions, a business review, rebrand, and the opening of our Adelaide office wrapping up 2013,” said Haycom’s Mario Valenti.
“After more than 38 years in the business, it became evident that Haycom’s branding needed to evolve and more accurately reflect the company’s strong reputation and unique position in the market.”
New technology the company was showcasing included: robotic tele-presence, `Ghost Host’, and `Musion’ or holograms. (Visit www.haycom.com to learn more).
Despite new offerings such as the Innovation Zone, comments gathered from attendees suggested that, due to the high cost of exhibiting at AIME, the show lacked variety and imagination.
After attending this year’s event, Conference Focus managing director, Max Turpin, said the show’s content seemed driven by the sponsorship dollar, and not thought-leadership.
“AIME is a great place to find out (more) about new or emerging destinations, hotels, and venues, which provides a good reason to attend. But if you’re looking for ideas, and innovations that will drag our industry out of the time warp it’s currently in, AIME isn’t the place.
“We need to go beyond logistics by allowing smaller players to exhibit with less budget to provide a more diverse range of exhibitors because there’s so much more to meetings than logistics.
“AIME shouldn’t be just a commercial exercise; as the peak industry show it should be leading the way with innovation and showcasing more AV and event technology, not just hotels and destinations,” he said.
There were also criticisms of this year’s AIME Knowledge educational program, which despite its comprehensive line-up, was deemed costly ($55.00 per session) and ran throughout the show. This meant many hosted buyers and exhibitors were unable to attend due to their pre-scheduled business appointments.
Despite this, sessions were well received by those who did manage to attend, and included 17 seminars covering topics like old and new media, leadership, and the art and science of behavioral change. A standout performance was given by Earth Hour co-creator and ABC TV panelist Todd Sampson, who spoke about the delicate relationship between creativity and fear, encouraging delegates to have creative courage and “be brave for five minutes longer” in order to ensure corporate organisations are gardens of creativity, and not prisons.
The Saxton Speaker Showcase wowed once again, proving the early rise (7:40am start time) was well worth it with the likes of Vinh Giang, a young magician with a sense of humour; a tear-jerking speech by former British solider John Peters (who was tortured by the Hussein regime during the Gulf War); Michelle Bridges of The Biggest Loser; and an envelope-pushing performance by Australian beatboxer, Tom Thum. Singer/songwriter Darren Percival also made an appearance, serenading delegates while entrepreneur Matthew Michalewicz carefully examined the science of success.
Another event highlight was, of course, the AIME Welcome Reception at the inner-city park, Birrarung Marr, produced by Peter Jones Special Events. Perched along the banks of the Yarra River, the pop-up event, initially shrouded in secrecy, celebrated Melbourne’s vibrant urban character with food trucks serving gourmet street eats like Vietnamese Banh Mi rolls, fish tacos, pulled-pork sliders, and dumplings and dim sum; a live band; and colourful street performers. Epicure catered the event, further showcasing the city’s culinary flair and ensuring attendees were kept well fed and well watered throughout the evening. The open-air space and carnival theming encouraged casual networking and, as the sun went down, a lively DJ set ensured festivities carried on well into the night.