The meetings and incentives business is looking up down under, as the Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo, which opened February 15 at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre in Melbourne, Australia, reported an impressive 32 percent boost in the number of pre-registered visitors this year over 2010.

“I am very positive about what lies ahead,” said Event Director Sally de Swart of Reed Travel Exhibitions, organizer of the show, in a media briefing on the opening day. “Undeniably, the last two years have been challenging for the whole industry, but over recent months we have seen green shoots of recovery and I am confident the industry is on track to bounce back to a stronger position, having adapted and responded to the recent challenges.”

Now in its 19th year, AIME drew 848 exhibitors—which includes 40 more than in 2010 and 200 new exhibitors. Among the newcomers: Monaco, Switzerland, Vancouver, The Rocky Moutaineer, and Carlson Hotels Worldwide. The largest exhibit booths this year are from Tourism Malaysia, Philippine Department of Tourism, Dubai Department of Tourism, Business Events Australia, and Gold Coast [Australia] Tourism. The 4,500 pre-registered visitors expected to attend over the two days of the show is some 1,100 more than the number of pre-registrants in 2010.

According to De Swart, the mood at AIME’s opening reception reflected the promising signs ahead. “Monday night’s welcome reception was held in the iconic beachside suburb of St. Kilda at the St. Kilda Sea Baths, which over looks Melbourne’s Port Philip Bay,” she said. “The evening was attended by more than 2,200 AIME attendees. Everyone was in good spirits, and networking to start AIME with a bang.”

AIME returns to Melbourne in an even more celebratory mood next year, on February 14 and 15, which will mark the show’s 20th anniversary.

Australia Flood Update
Of course, the good news for meetings worldwide was balanced somewhat by the continuing story of the devastating flooding in December and January that affected thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of homes in Brisbane and elsewhere in the Australian state of Queensland. To help, the Melbourne Convention & Visitors Bureau and Reed Travel Exhibitions organized a fundraising drive during AIME, encouraging the show’s visitors and exhibitors to donate.

"Even the smallest contribution will assist those who have been evacuated from their homes or had their houses seriously damaged in flood-affected areas of Queensland," said De Swart, adding that the size and reach of AIME provides an ideal opportunity to generate significant funds.

Meanwhile, Robert O’Keeffe, general manager of the Brisbane Convention Exhibition Centre released a statement in late January informing clients and the public that its event spaces were unaffected and that telephone and IT services all had been restored. The latest updates are posted at the Queensland Government Web site.

Australia Attracts: From Accounting to Clean Energy
When associations are selecting sites for their international meetings, local innovation and expertise in the field can be a strong selling point, as well as a major benefit to the organization and its attendees. That was the thinking behind the launch of the Australia Associations Project, announced at AIME 2010. Its goal was to make it easier for international meeting planners to find local leaders across a wide range of industries, including agribusiness/aquaculture, education and training, communications technology, and clean energy, and increase the country’s already strong popularity in the medical and scientific fields.

“Australia is an ideal business event destination with its close proximity to Asia, its political and economic stability, its creativity and innovation, and its world-class business events facilities,” said Julie Sheather, manager of the Australia Associations Project, in a press release announcing more 300 major international association conferences booked in Australia over the next three years. At this year’s AIME, Sheather presented results of a survey of association executives, slightly over half of whom are based outside Australia and one-third of whom have previously hosted an event in Australia. The research found that Australia is the first-choice destination for major international events, particularly among those who had previously hosted an event there. And 23 percent of those interviewed would recommend Australia first as a destination to host an international event.

The Australia Associations Project is a collaboration among the Australian Government/Tourism Australia and Australia’s leading convention bureaus.