The annual Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo opened February 21 with a huge cake topped with blazing sparklers to celebrate the event's 20th birthday. From a small show of 30 hosted buyers and 150 exhibitors, AIME has grown into the premier meetings industry event in the region and is now organized by expo giant Reed Travel Exhibitions (which puts on AIBTM and EIBTM). The 2012 event is expected to attract 4,000 visitors, including buyers from 27 countries, to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
AIME is also an opportunity for Melbourne to showcase its many event venues, including the Melbourne Pavilion, site of an opening-night reception for more than 2,000 guests; Albert Park, which will attract 30,000 visitors to the city in March for the Australian Grand Prix; and a rambling waterfront entertainment district along on the banks of the Yarra River. During the opening press conference on Monday, Deputy Lord Mayor Susan Riley summed up the Melbourne experience: “We may not have a Harbour Bridge or Opera House, but it’s our sophisticated urban experience that sets us apart from the rest.” As do the city’s convention facilities, with the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre being the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Last fall, the center launched free Wi-Fi for all visitors and, at AIME, once again led the way among Australian convention centers with the announcement of a new meetings app called MConnect. There are more than 5,400 hotel rooms within walking distance of the center and more than 26,000 throughout the city, making it a magnet for international conventions, including the 2014 International AIDS Conference.
In 2011, Melbourne took the top spot on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Survey, a ranking of 140 cities around the world, and an honor that is often touted by tourism officials.
On the incentive front, Melbourne and the state of Victoria are often overshadowed by Sydney, a fact that AIME organizers addressed by holding a number of media and hosted-buyer fams that included accommodations at the city’s five-star hotels, visits to the nearby Yarra Valley (the region’s wine country), and flightseeing over the 12 Apostles, a series of limestone formations just off the coast along the Great Ocean Road. However, at the same time as the Melbourne CVB was familiarizing attendees with the area’s incentive options, the Australian media was up in arms about the revelation that ANZ, one of Australia's top banks, plans to hold a lavish $1.2 million incentive cruise in early March for frontline employees after laying off 1,000 workers last week.