Shanghai-based Lisa Xu, managing director of East Star Event Management, served on the SITE International board for three years and is the new SITE China Chapter president for the next two years. The industry veteran, with 30 years of event management experience and CMP credentials, shares her outlook on inbound and outbound, government support, talent and sustainability.
How did China and East Star fare in 2023?
China showed signs of recovery from the impact of the pandemic last year. There were increased domestic and international events, which expanded beyond traditional hubs like Beijing and Shanghai to other cities, showcasing regional diversity.
To revive the industry, the government put out several initiatives, including financial subsidies and policy relaxation such as visas.
East Star successfully retained most of its team members during the past three years, despite China being closed. Now, our business has been reshaped and diversified.
Our capability has grown through the years as a corporate event agency, DMC, PCO, in public relations and marketing, as well as business consulting. Our business transformation resulted in our annual financial goal, and we achieved business growth; a 40 per cent increase in 2023 for domestic and international inbound and outbound events.
What is your outlook for 2024?
It is very positive despite the weakening global economy. There is a strong determination to resume international connections from top levels of our clients, governments and corporations.
Although inbound incentives, especially from the US and European markets may not return within the next one to two years, corporate business events, regional conferences, both inbound and outbound government missions and roadshows resumed as soon as China’s borders reopened and quarantine measures were lifted (March 2023). We welcomed our first outbound incentive in April 2023 and first inbound corporate conference, with around 200 people, in May 2023.
There are certain industry and business segments which are weak, but new industry and business models are emerging, which will require more extensive capabilities of a service provider on the ground versus a traditional DMC.
The opportunities lie in the business environment and demand changes, which will surely become a threat if DMCs do not adapt and evolve.
SITE China and ICCA have enrolled members from second- and third-tier destinations and from vast segments of the industry who are pursuing not only international clients, but are evolving further and broadening their networking.
What changes do you see in government support in China?
Beijing (referring to the Beijing Municipal Culture and Tourism Bureau taking part in IMEX Frankfurt, IMEX America, IBTM World and ICCA Congress 2024) is taking a leading role in its marketing positioning.
It is the capital city and represents China to some point. Any international exposure from China should be selective. The four tradeshows were familiar to Chinese event management companies before the pandemic, and they already have a buyer and seller database.
As our industry continues to evolve, perhaps its counterparts will participate in other tradeshows as well.
What about other municipal culture and tourism bureaus stepping up?
Indeed, each destination is launching policies individually to promote and attract international events, and we have a consolidated list of these that can help our clients to shortlist their event destination strategically pending government support.
What government support do event management companies really need now to rebuild the business?
Talent is the future of our industry. Other than international promotion and marketing, we need more support on professional education, training and nurturing talent as our industry requires extensive and diversified skill sets. This does not only include language capabilities and good service standards, but also design, visual, technology, business intelligence, etc.
What was the level of demand for green meetings in 2023, how important will it be this year and how ready is China?
Sustainability has been a big topic since 2017, and has been “making noise” in China since 2019.
China is the largest clean-power vehicle manufacturer and the top two producer of solar panels. China is also building a green frontier to plant bushes to control desertification of the second largest desert in the world. The country has also built high-speed roads and railways to speed up the greening construction in the desert.
All these efforts show how determined our government is to be carbon neutral, and we have organised more than 20 government, corporate and academic forums focusing on carbon neutrality.
SITE also initiated the Strategic Meetings Management Programme. Promoted in China, the programme encourages green travel through the use of electric vehicles for ground transportation, and offers more than 20 sustainable programmes and ideas to provide solutions for events.
At the recent China Meetings and Incentives Conference hosted and organised by SITE China member Meetings China, branding collaterals were made with recycled cardboard and green meetings were emphasised, including those at SITE China sharing sessions.
There is also an emerging trend where many DMCs and PCOs are cooperating with hotels that have achieved effective implementation of green environmental protection and leverage their efforts to advocate more green meetings in China.