Story by KRISTIE THONG
Australia may be keen to attract Asian buyers, but its Asian counterparts are just as eager to entice buyers from Down Under, evident from this year’s Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo.
Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy told micenet ASIA: “Competition is a huge challenge we currently face. When we got into handling business events in the 80-90s, there were only a few around doing the same thing. But now, there are 200 destinations trying to do similar things.”
From the established cosmopolitan bigwigs Melbourne and Sydney, and Brisbane and Adelaide’s growing capacity to host large events, to the exotic Uluru and famous Great Barrier Reef, the continent is chockfull of opportunities for MICE buyers. Yet settling for sufficient isn’t enough, and this seemed to be a general consensus among the team of Australian convention bureaux at this year’s Asia-Pacific Incentives and Meetings Expo (AIME) held in Melbourne.
The Melbourne Convention Bureau launched a convention district that encompassed a four-kilometre-wide area boasting Melbourne’s highest concentration of conference facilities. Business Events Week was also held in the city, featuring a week-long programme of activities designed to showcase the value of business events, with AIME as its centrepiece.
Not to be outdone, Business Events Sydney CEO Lyn Lewis-Smith was quick to point out in a press conference that the bureau had shifted its focus on business events in New South Wales (NSW) to include both visitor and knowledge economies through extensive Beyond Tourism Benefits research projects. Having gained insights into the social, economic and educational value of business events, the bureau was able to strengthen governmental relationships and also contribute to the business case for a new convention centre – the ICC Sydney – slated to open in late 2016.
Brisbane also put up a strong case by announcing the launch of Australia’s newest convention centre, the Royal International Convention Centre, which welcomed its first guests in February. Located 1.6 kilometres from Brisbane’s central business district and 15 minutes from the city’s international airport, the 10,000-square metre two-level property features three halls, seven adaptable meeting rooms, two boardrooms, an open foyer, 140 car parks, and state-of-the-art rigging and catering facilities.
The south too revealed projects such as the Adelaide Convention Centre, SA Health and Medical Research Institute and the Adelaide Oval nearing completion, while the Rundle Mall shopping precinct, Riverbank promenade, Festival Centre Plaza and the Casino are currently in various planning stages.
Mr McEvoy said that the motivation level was high amongst Asian buyers, evident from the response garnered from AIME’s pre-show tours and the growing number of business events in the country.
“But we are a high-cost destination. Our dollar is strong, so we need to keep demonstrating value and competing.”
Apart from mainstream advertising, an initiative to expose Asian buyers to the prowess of Australia is a programme known as Dreamtime, which will see buyers and media travel around the country to experience what it has to offer.
“We know it’s powerful; we did it two years ago and we know we’ve gotten business from that trip because people went home and got motivated, and presented Australia to their clients,” he added.
Australia may be keen to attract Asian buyers, but its Asian counterparts are just as eager to entice Australian buyers due to the strong dollar Down Under.
“They are able to do more in Asia at a lower cost, and in recent years the quality gap is becoming less significant as Asia is doing all it can to level the playing field,” an incentive tour operator based in Hong Kong said.
There is a strong level of sustained interest in Asia Pacific, with most Australian buyers citing Singapore, Hong Kong, China and South Korea as worthy destinations to consider running events in. The exotic cultures in Asia, combined with a budding reputation of great service delivery and cost-effectiveness, make running events in the region more appealing than ever.
“I particularly like bringing the cultural aspect into the event and supporting a worthy cause that is close to the country,” The Events Authority general manager Shelly Page said.
However, what’s holding many Australian buyers back is a general lack of knowledge about dealing with talent and logistics in the region, leaving them daunted about venturing into the East.
“I wouldn’t know where to start,” the director of an event management company based in Sydney admitted. Furthermore, the volatile economy has caused companies to tighten their purse strings. Particularly in the finances sector where event budgets are determined based on the performance of European headquarters, Australian buyers are constrained to settle for inter-state events.
“I personally enjoy working in Asia because unlike Australia, everything is negotiable (including data projectors and screens). From my experience, they ‘understand’ the importance of a two-way relationship and offer value-adds that are actually valuable and meaningful, and not just a marketing term,” Ms Page said.
Contrary to belief that Asia pales in comparison to the high standards in Australia, she said service across all levels have been consistently good, with the quality of accommodation and meeting facilities “much superior to what you can get in Australia”.
“The service staff is immaculately dressed and groomed, and always have a welcoming smile and genuinely look as though they are pleased to see you.”
Yet running events in Asia is not without its host of challenges.
According to Ms Page, the biggest barrier is language and the understanding of what is needed, which can be misunderstood easily on e-mail.
“I feel it is really beneficial when there is an expatriate in the hotel that we can work with initially and who understands our expectations from the start.
“Another barrier is that whilst some bureaus offer amazing support to assist in getting business into a country, others do not have the financial backing or support.”
Buyers have also expressed interest in the huge resort and spa culture in Asia, believing that an incentive trip to exotic beach destinations such as Phuket, Thailand, would be an exciting experience.
“I do think working in this type of environment is soothing to the soul and assists in seeing and seeking solutions with a different mindset,” Ms Page said.
Resorts and spas may have piqued the interest of Australian buyers, but she felt there is still a lack of marketing efforts promoting the combination of spas and conferences. “We all know there is a spa, but it would be good to see how this can be used. For example, a value-add could be head and shoulder massages during the conference break.”
While some markets in Asia have established themselves as strong contenders in the business events space, it’s undeniable that some still fall short due to language, logistics and infrastructural barriers. But as the industry takes in the heightened activity amongst Asian exhibitors at AIME and their readiness to participate in more tradeshows globally, the inevitable day where Asia stands proudly on a level playing field is fast-approaching.