Six of the best destinations for business events in AsiaBy Ian Lloyd Neubauer
27 Apr 2015
A health retreat in the highlands of Java. A Soviet-era sports stadium in central China. A new convention centre in Cambodia where your delegates get to wear in the carpet. There's no denying the wow factor and the payoff for pulling off business events at venues like these. The payoff is huge, but so is the risk. From visa issues, to flight cancellations, to venue problems, any number of things can and will go wrong. The safe bet for event organisers are destinations that have demonstrated stable, solid growth in the MICE market for at least ten years. Here are six of the best.
The chips were down for Australia last year with the closure of the flagship Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre as a new venue scheduled for completion in December 2016 begins to take shape. “The closure has had a significant impact on our industry. Big shows had to relocate to a temporary centre and visitor numbers were down,” says Joyce DiMascio, CEO of Exhibition & Event Association of Australasia (EEAA). “But the sector has proven itself to be very resilient and done well under the circumstances.”
Sydney has seen strong growth in TV lifestyle-driven consumer exhibitions like Cake, Bake & Sweets, which attracted 20,000 people in its first year; the Good Food & Wine Show, Australia's largest consumer exhibition; and the Dog Lovers Show, named Best Australian Show at the EEAA's 2014 awards.
Elsewhere around Australia, Perth has continued its dominance in events for the resource sector with Mining Australia Expo and Africa Down Under, now in its 10th year. With it's close proximity to Asia, the Darwin Convention Centre with its riverfront hotels and giant wave pool continues to see plenty of action, hosting three large-scale government events in October and November last year.
Yet Australia's star performer has to be Brisbane, host of the G20 Summit in November. A hyper-complex security-quagmire that counted Barrack Obama and Vladimir Putin among its delegates, the G-20 was pulled off without a hitch under the watchful glare of 2,500 media representatives. “Brisbane is now without doubt a world-class city,” DiMascio says.
There's no denying geography played a part in averting disaster for Hong Kong MICE when pro-democracy protests shut down large parts of the city in October last year. The city's major event space—AsiaWorld-Expo at the airport—is fortunately located outside the former protest areas and remained fully accessible to delegates during the height of disruptions.
Yet credit must be given to the cool heads who worked under extraordinary pressure during to ensure the giant consumer goods exhibitions that reach their crescendo in October (and May) ran without incident. “Trade shows which have successfully completed last week or are scheduled this week in Hong Kong have, aside from some minor travel disruption, continued as normal,” Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Industry Association chairman Javed Khan said at the time.
It's an example of the mature, methodological management style that's made Hong Kong the number three player in Asia's MICE industry after China and Japan, with steady annual growth of 3-6 per cent over the past 15 years. “The Hong Kong sector isn't growing as fast as Jakarta or Bangkok, but that's because it's a very mature and healthy market,” says Mark Cochrane, regional head of UFI.
The biggest issue for Hong Kong's MICE industry in 2015 and beyond is floor space at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and Asia World-Expo. There are a number of shows that are wall-bound even when they occupy both venues, like the Hong Kong Jewellery and Gem Fair, held in September. “Within the next three to five years we're going to add venue capacity,” Cochrane says. “The question is at which of the two venues will they add capacity. And that is going to be a political hot potato.”
From zero to hero. It's a fitting way to describe Macau, the former Portuguese colony where business events quadrupled from 278 in 2004 to more than 1,000 in 2014, according to the Macau Government Tourist Office. With gaming, nightlife, shows and entertainment, and beautiful old European buildings of the UNESCO World Heritage listed city centre, Macau offers event organisers a quixotic alternative to Hong Kong.
Corporate meetings accounted for more than half of all business events in Macau last year, though exhibitions were the real drawcard. Staged at gregarious venues like the Venetian Macao, Macao Tower and the Sheraton Macao Hotel, exhibitions generated 96 per cent of MICE visitors in Macau in Q3 of last year, the most recent figures on record. Macau is now home to three UFI-approved events: the Macao International Environmental Cooperation Forum and Exhibition, the Macao International Trade and Investment Fair and Global Gaming Expo Asia, the No, 1 trade show for region's gaming industry. And with a slew of new themed integrated resorts like Wynn Palace, Karl Lagerfeld Hotel, MGM Cotai and Palazzo Versace Macau coming online in the next few years, Macau is ready to roar.
“Business events have been identified as a key way to diversify the economy of Macau and the government is providing a large range of support,” says City University of Macau Professor and MICE expert Aliana Leong. “The government is offering lots of financial incentives. It's developing special support platforms like the MICE industry personal database, an interactive employment service to fill labour gaps and provide training programs in line with market demands.”
Thailand is famous for its ability to bounce back from hard times. Graphs show MICE visitor numbers fell dramatically in 2006, 2009 and 2014 when political protests rocked Bangkok, and rose just as dramatically in proceeding years. The current recovery is already on the way, with a jam-packed calender of international trade shows for the carmaking, energy, food, agriculture, healthcare, wellness and infrastructure. And like the exhibition halls of Sydney, venues are also capitalising on the increasing popularity of consumer lifestyle shows. “To drive our business forward in 2015, we are focusing less on B2B and more on B2C,” says Talun Theng, GM of Royal Hall Plaza, a 12,000 sqm venue in the heart of Bangkok. “In February we hosted the 1st Japan Expo in Thailand where 70,000 people came over three days to learn about working and studying in Japan.”
To help reassert Thailand's position as a leading MICE destination, in January the Thai government unveiled the new Thailand MICE Venue Standard—a tool to measure MICE service quality that's been adopted by ASEAN as a framework. Three convention centres, five groups and 34 hotels across the country are already certified under the Standard.
Above and beyond, Thailand's current recovery is being driven by value for money. “The most important factor for decision makers is value and on this point Thailand cannot be beaten. It offers on average 60 per cent better value for accommodation, day delegate rates, dining options and on and on,” says Nikolaus Priesnitz, GM of Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort in Bangkok, which opens a new 4,500 sqm Grand Ballroom in September.
Growing regional competition and the depreciation of regional currencies against the Singapore dollar saw Singapore attract 13 per cent fewer MICE visitors in 2014 compared to the previous year. But that's on the back of the doubling of visitor arrivals in the past decade and an increase in tourism receipts of 250 per cent. And it's at the front of dynamic series of new-to-market exhibitions at Suntec and Singapore Expo this year: Inside Bitcoins, Inside 3D Printing, the International Brain Stimulation Conference, The Last Mile Fulfilment Asia, Rubber Week, Metrology Asia and Radiology Asia.
“The line up of business events represents our ability to reach into the key verticals aligned with Singapore’s vision of becoming a knowledge-based economy,” says Aloysius Arlando, CEO of SingEx, Singapore Expo's management company.
But MICE aren't all about work knowledge; they're supposed to fun too, something Singapore wasn't historically famous for. Enter a new genre of event venues like the W Singapore on Sentosa Cove. A tropical oasis of beaches, pools, rainforests, golf courses, restaurants, bars, spas and meeting rooms flooded with natural light on the doorstep of the city, MICE account for 30 per cent of its business. “Our unique selling point is that we offer a very relaxed feel, like being on the French Riviera,” says marketing manager Supriya Ghosh. “People want to be relaxed at business meeting because that's when they're most engaged. So we make things light by holding food breaks in beautiful gardens and cocktail parties with DJs playing music on the beach.”
They are at nearly every MICE trade show. They hold dynamic seminars across the region to help businesses understand the benefits of holding their next event in their county. Their annual MICE trade show held at ABS Show grounds in Auckland in June is now in its 19th big year.
“We go on mass to events in Southeast Asia, China and Australia with a collective mindset driven by very good government funding for the bidding process,” says Sue Sullivan, CEO of Conventions and Incentives New Zealand. “Our success is routed in our history as a tourist destination. We are a safe destination in close proximity to Southeast Asia and we have new carriers flying here every year.”
Crowned by HSBC as the 'rock star' of 2014 by HSCBC, New Zealand's economy hasn't skipped a beat this year with new convention centre going up in Christchurch, and possibly Aukland and Wellington too. And the country's reputation for food, wine, golf and spa treatments is at an all time high, especially among the Chinese and Hong Kong business travellers.
“We recently hosted a conference for 30 people from China,” says Mark Rose, GM of The Rees Hotel, a luxury 60-room lakefront property in the ski and spa resort of Queenstown. “They spent NZ$35,600 on dinner and that included two bottles of win for NZ$11,000 each. The next day, we took them on a jet boat in the morning and heli-skiing in the afternoon. New Zealand's clean-green thing is a huge attraction for the Chinese. We often hear them say it's the most amazing place they've ever seen.”
Main image: Singapore skyline