Association meetings are on the rise in Hong Kong but industry players say stronger trade collaboration can speed up growth, writes Prudence Lui
Hong Kong is well-positioned as an international meeting destination, with more than 1.6 million MICE overnight arrivals recorded in 2013, based on statistics from Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB).
At the same time, the small but significantly growing segment of association meetings is “an excellent way to enhance Hong Kong’s international profile”, said HKTB’s general manager of MICE and cruise, Kenneth Wong.
“Given the city’s strengths in finance and medicine, there are many association meetings related to these sectors,” he remarked.
In January, Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong (MEHK) invited 15 medical doctors from China to Hong Kong on an exchange, which included meetings with medical associations and visits to hotels and attractions; pair-up activities like seminars and dinners were also held.
Wong said: “China is on our (target) list. This year, we will proactively (seek out) medical chapters and bring their national and provincial meetings to Hong Kong. Mainland Chinese are interested to visit the city alongside meetings, whereas international medical chapters look for knowledge exchange and even member recruitment.”
Next year, MEHK will focus on business development such as strengthening networks with decision-makers.
Other government bodies like Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices (HKETOs) and InvestHK also play a pivotal role in lead referrals and congress bidding.
Wong said: “We have leads coming from (our strong international overseas networks) regularly. HKETO refers mostly conference leads, and convention organisers who’d like to organise big events can approach InvestHK for advice.”
AsiaWorld-Expo Management director of business development, marketing and branding, Monique Yeung, said: “We have been working closely with HKTB on attracting association events to Hong Kong. The venue works together with the bureau from the bidding stage right up to the event day.
“For example, for Future Travel Experience Asia 2013 and Airline Retail Conference 2013, HKTB provided constructive advice and practical guidance from the proposal stage to final conclusion and offered strong support in event promotion in both the local and overseas markets.”
Industry stakeholders are also starting to realise the potential of association meetings, although the segment is still a niche area in its infancy, observed Janet Wu, director of sales at Hotel ICON.
She remarked: “We hosted on average about 10 association meetings/conferences per year based on the last 30 months of operations. As we are owned by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, we get many business referrals (academic meetings). We hope to develop association meetings but the booking window is long, averaging about 2.5 years in advance. Moreover, countries like China and Singapore are also keen to compete for this sector.”
Wu hence urged HKTB to take the lead in pulling hotels together to create unique ideas and educate the trade on how to tap the segment more effectively.
Space constraint, on the other hand, is the greatest challenge to developing association conference business for Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), which holds around 30 international conferences every year, with a majority related to the medical and dentistry sectors, said the venue’s managing director, Monica Lee-Muller.
“Other key reasons stopping association executives from bidding for congresses include financial risks, (the availability of) expertise to organise a congress and the small number of potential attendees,” commented Clemson Lo, general manager of MV Destination Management, which specialises in organising medical and scientific conferences.
“(MEKH) could help with overseas promotions and promotional materials, and introduce local suppliers to associations,” he suggested.
Sharing similar sentiments, Oscar Cerezales, COO Asia Pacific and global director of association services at MCI Group urged a more united industry front comprising the tourism boards, convention centres, expos and hotels.
“These service chains should be more cohesive, (comprising) not just their own agendas, tactical plans and strategies but one incorporating all services,” commented Cerezales.
“There is also a need to apply management strategy or specific tactics for low seasons, like (what) airlines and hotels do because the city has certain days, weeks or periods (that are) less full.”
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