Asia’s evolution

As much as Asia’s business events industry has changed, it has also remained stagnant, say industry veterans

If there was one significant change in Asia’s business events industry over numerous decades, it would be the ability to win over global gatherings.

Mike Cannon, who began his business events career in 1978 with the formation of a DMC in Australia and went on to head Sarawak Convention Bureau as CEO from 2012 to 2017, observed that Asia in the early days “lacked the creativity to entice my clients (from Australia)” in comparison to destinations in New Zealand, the UK, Europe and North America.

“It was beer, beach, some culture, and price – that’s it. But how that has changed,” remarked Cannon, who now runs Mike Cannon Business Events – Asia Pacific, a consultancy focused on marketing, branding, training and representation for organisations targeting business events. “Singapore, even with its rigid bureaucracy and conservative environment, has excelled in its offerings for corporate events. And Bali, despite being ‘full’, still offers a unique experience for corporate events – and keeps refreshing.”

Susilowani Daud, president director of PACTO Convex Indonesia, who started her business in the early 1990s, confessed that she used to be annoyed by Singaporean business events leaders who saw Indonesia only as an extension for meeting programmes held in the city-state.

Suprabha Moleeratanond

“At that time, the Jakarta Convention Center was still under construction to host the Non Alignment Movement Summit. The airport in Jakarta could barely handle the arrivals of 10,000 delegates across those two days,” she recalled.

Susilowani’s confidence in her country’s ability to score on the regional business events stage has since changed.

“Today, Jakarta and Bali – to say the least – are ready to compete (as standalone destinations). We have the venues, hotels and airports that can accommodate large events,” she said, adding that general infrastructure across the country, including in secondary cities, has been vastly improved over the past four years.

Adding to that, the Indonesian government kicked off in 2017 its 10 New Balis programme to replicate the economic effects of tourism in Bali across 10 other destinations in the country.

National tourism authorities elsewhere in South-east Asia are doing the same.

Having successfully developed five MICE cities, Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau is now following through a new masterplan to grow the Kingdom’s pool of quality destinations for a range of business events.

Vietnam National Administration of Tourism is calling for fresh infrastructure in Quang Ninh Province, where the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2019 will be hosted in Halong Bay. The event is expected to show the world that Vietnam in general has the ability to pull off large-scale events, noted Dinh Ngoc Duc, the NTO’s director of marketing.

There are success stories of states and cities that have taken it upon themselves to get business events-ready too – such as Penang and Sarawak in Malaysia.

Another major, positive change in Asia’s business events industry, according to Cannon, is the improved air accessibility “that has made Asia much easier to sell”.

On the other hand, industry veterans are lamenting an aspect of the industry that has remained frustratingly unchanged, and that is the lack of cooperation among regional CVBs to raise Asia’s competitiveness, standards and profile.

Suprabha Moleeratanond, ICCA honorary member and once chairperson of the Asian Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus (AACVB), said: “I have always wanted to see cooperation among Asian CVBS and have hoped that together they can help to grow the industry.

“If associations and business enterprises that lie around Asia-Pacific can be exhorted by national CVBs and brought to work together, to share their expertise and experience, one can imagine how that will generate new knowledge, social understanding, and cross border business for Asia. It would benefit all CVBs, if they can develop a database together.”

However, she acknowledged that Asia’s “diverse cultures and languages, and the competitive nature of Asians” make it hard for such a collaboration to work.

“Now that Asian governments see the impact of business events on their country and their political, social and economic agenda, together with the growth of China and India, I observe stronger competition and less cooperation among Asian CVBs,” Suprabha added.

Also dismayed by the lack of regional CVB cooperation, Cannon said: “Done well, the AACVB has the opportunity and potential, not only to keep pace with Australia and China, but also to drive Asia as the future business events destination. But it is frustrating that it hasn’t taken off. On its website, the latest bit of news was tabled around 2011.”

Susilowani also highlighted the continued lack of “government commitment to support the industry, especially in bidding for large association events”.

When asked for their vision of Asia’s business events industry for the near future and advice on regional advancement, views are varied.

Cannon hopes industry peers will pay more attention to China as a potential rival. While the market is large enough to fill its own massive supply of business events infrastructure, he warned that soon the Chinese would want to meet elsewhere and China venues would have to look globally to fill their spaces.

Suprabha continues to urge a stronger collaboration among national CVBs in Asia, while Susilowani hopes to see Indonesian players work hand in hand with the government to “grab business. – Reporting by Karen Yue and Mimi Hudoyo

This article is part of The Soul of Business Events, first published in TTGmice December 2018/January 2019

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