Asia Pacific

Trade secrets revealed at ABM

Global event buyers share tips on how to win business and offer unique market insights. 

A s the business events industry scales up globally and interest in Asia Pacific (APAC) grows, how does one do business with key international markets? The recent Asia Business Meet gathered global buyers to share insights into their respective markets and discuss the specific challenges of working with destinations in APAC.

One of the challenges faced by incentive travel professional, Rajeev Kohli, joint managing director of Creative Travel, when doing business in APAC is about the focus — or lack thereof — for incentive travel. He advises industry players to promote local experiences instead of emphasising physical infrastructure alone. He says: “No one will buy a destination unless they feel it.”

Matthew Oster, head of enterprise events and marketing at National Australia Bank, agrees.

He advises bureaus to work together with the service sector to sell the destination first. “You’re not competitors when you’re talking to the rest of the world,” he says. “It’s about showcasing what you’ve got in your backyard.”

With a market as vast as the U.S., the challenge for operators in APAC is in delivering unique experiences to justify the time and cost of travelling to the region.

According to Chicago-based Catherine Butler, director of operations, project and onsite management at BCD Meetings & Events, product differentiation is key. “There are many different cultures and aspects to each of the APAC countries. Make sure you showcase that to us because we want to come over and get the right solution for our clients.”

Meanwhile, Richard Soo, managing director of MEP Meeting & Exhibition Planners, based in Kuala Lumpur, admits slow turnaround time from sellers in APAC is an ongoing struggle. “We really do not have the luxury of time these days. Our clients give us maybe five days to come up with four destination proposals,” he says.

Market insights

In an effort to bridge cultural gaps and ease the process of doing business, buyers also shared real-life insights into the current situation unfolding in each of their respective markets.

Kohli, based in India, cautions industry players against stereotyping the Indian market. “India is an evolving market and we are one of the most powerful markets in the world,” he says. “Today’s Indian traveller is spending the most money on the ground than any other nationality around.”

“We will spend the money,” he insists. “Just show us how to spend it!”

When dealing with the China market, Ray Zhang, Ofo’s procurement head, says the Chinese will look for three things — interesting destinations, ease of doing business, and cost.

And short lead times are part and parcel of doing business in this market. “Chinese MICE buyers never give you a lot of time to conduct inspections. The boss will say give me the proposal in one or two days’ time.”

In Australia, Oster sees a shift back to customer centricity, which means “designing brand experiences that really allow our customers to immerse themselves in the values and vision of our organisation, and to create that emotional connection”.

Meanwhile, Butler shares that many corporate clients in the U.S. are risk averse. In overcoming negative perceptions of a destination (often perpetuated by the media), she feels that honesty is the best policy. “It’s good to be honest about the issues within your country. Educate us so we can carry on the education overseas,” she says.

In the U.K., Stephen Pope, managing director of corporate events and incentive agency, red e2, says that Brexit hasn’t affected any client perception or their attitude to travel. “Budgets are still available for the next 12 to 18 months,” he says.

Security, however, is a big issue. “Security should play a bigger part in a seller’s message to a client, in terms of what your operational stance [and emergency response] is.”

In Kuala Lumpur, Soo highlights tighter procurement policies within multinational companies as a pain point. “Clients may want you to do the job, but procurement is not going to allow it because it’s all dollars and sense to them,” he says. “So the challenge is how we can overcome this procurement process and still create a relationship with the client.”

To address this issue, Soo believes event organisers must rally together to “have a dialogue with multinationals’ procurement teams so that they have an understanding of how we can work better together and still deliver value.”