March 18, 2022 | By Bronwen Largier

The largest business events industry event in Australasia will officially kick off on Monday in Melbourne with 900 people registered to attend the Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event (AIME) welcome event on Monday evening and over 2,000 people expected to be on the show floor over the two days of the exhibition.

micenet caught up with Matt Pearce, Director of AIME’s organiser, Talk2 Media & Events, to discuss all things safety, bringing back international hosted buyers and what’s new for the event in 2022.

Event safety at AIME

On the event safety front, as circulation of the COVID-19 Omicron sub-variant gathers a bit of pace, Pearce says the event is “willingly” following Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre’s (MCEC) Venue Safe plan. Organisers are also providing rapid antigen tests to all hosted buyers and media and are encouraging all attendees to take a rapid test each day before attending, with tests available onsite. Aside from that, Talk2 Media & Events have taken more space for the show than pre-pandemic.

“Don’t get me wrong, the show…won’t be acres of empty space but we have more space so people can spread out a bit – and it’s never a dense, dense show in that sense – but I think there’s sufficient room for everyone to be comfortable with where they are and what they’re doing,” says Pearce.

Now-standard hand hygiene measures like santisation stations will also be in place on the show floor and social distancing and elbow bumping will be encouraged.

MCEC has also confirmed their ventilation standards exceed those in Victorian Government guidelines for event spaces, which advise at least four to six air exchanges per hour in indoor spaces and an average ventilation rate of more than 10 litres per second per person.

The venue says its heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is designed to provide a consistent air quality within their spaces “under all load conditions”. Their Venue Safe plan also specifies that the rate of outside air flowing into indoor spaces can be maxed out to 100 per cent outside air when rooms and halls are in use.

But Pearce also believes providing a safe event environment in the age of COVID is one shared between organisers and attendees.

“The whole industry has been cruelled by the impact of the pandemic. We all understand that if we go, we have taken all the reasonable steps to ensure that we’re ok.

“Ultimately, I don’t think it’s dissimilar to many other things. We wouldn’t expect people to come rip roaring drunk into a show; we wouldn’t expect people who have got a bad bout of flu to actually turn up, so there are some social norms here that are just being extended.

“From our perspective for an event, it comes down to clear messaging and putting the responsibility – not abrogating responsibility – but putting some responsibility back on the individual for their own behaviour. Personally, I’d be really disappointed if people…had COVID and knowingly came to the event.”

In terms of other risks associated with attendance – for example for interstate stakeholders who could test positive for COVID-19 while in Melbourne, Pearce encourages attendees to take out travel insurance that covers any costs associated with the isolation requirements that come with a positive result.

International buyers

With Australia’s international border opening a month before AIME, after an almost two-year closure to business events travellers, there will be some international buyers attending the event in person.

“We have got them, we are very excited to have them,” says Pearce of the 30-40 hosted buyers the team have managed to secure since the federal government announced the reopening of the border.

Pearce says they were initially cautious about international buyers, wanting to see if there were any ramifications once the border opened – “we didn’t rush it,” he says – and there were some issues with committed schedules, particularly at a time when people are unaccustomed to travelling for events in the way they may have in the past.

While he’s not expected there to be any teething issues with having international attendance at the show, Pearce says they will share any learnings with industry if they occur and that having only small numbers of overseas buyers is a wise first step as events like AIME restart.

“I think to go from zero to a hundred miles an hour is difficult for everybody so I think learning this year and then being able to have everyone in next year will be fantastic.”

What’s new at AIME 2022

A new initiative for the show floor in 2022, following feedback from previous events, is “Activate” which is providing space on the show floor for some of the smaller businesses that help bring events to life – from photographers to entertainers – which Pearce says will be “a bit of fun” – without getting in the way of anyone doing business.

And while benchmarking the event’s sustainability and evaluating how it can be improved will be a major outcome for 2022, using the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia’s (EEAA) new sustainability calculator, the biggest change for Pearce lies in technology.

“The biggest change for us is undoubtedly the matching system,” he says.

Talk2 Media have partnered with event technology business Grip, who work with some of the biggest exhibition companies in the world, to deliver the best possible pre-scheduled appointment results for exhibitors and buyers at the show, through AI-driven match-making.

Pearce says it’s effectively a swipe left or right process to match buyers and sellers.

“Each time you swipe, whichever way you swipe, it learns from that.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard with them to get it right for what we want.

“The algorithm also tells us whether it’s a good match or just a match and they’re coming up with really good scores,” says Pearce.

“Getting very leading edge AI involved in the appointment making is where it’s going. Because the technology’s there, it’s just you’ve got to apply it.”

A restart opportunity

Above all, Pearce sees the show as an opportunity to help kickstart the industry again.

“I suppose the biggest responsibility we see for ourselves in this is just that whole revival, rebuilding, renewal of business events.

“If we’ve got good meetings between [buyers and sellers] and they have business to place…we get the short term business moving, then we can start playing with the longer term international stuff, a little bit this year, much more next year,” says Pearce.

AIME, owned by Melbourne Convention Bureau and organised by Talk2 Media and Events, will take place from March 21 – 23 at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. The AIME welcome event will be held at the new CENTREPIECE at Melbourne Park.