Even though Australia is a world apart from the United States, the country shares a language (sort of) and a similar lifestyle and world outlook with us Yanks. But the land down under is way ahead of us in terms of economic recovery, something that was made clear at Melbourne’s recent Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo.
Held March 2–3, the 18th AIME attracted an estimated 3,900 attendees, including 527 hosted buyers from 33 countries—up seven percent from last year’s expo. More than 800 exhibitors, including 195 newcomers, filled nearly 150,000 square feet of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre for the record-breaking expo.
Australian destinations dominated the booth space, but representatives from Hong Kong, Dubai, Thailand, and other international locations and travel-related businesses were out in force as well.
While the rest of the world has been dealing with the travel downturn resulting from the global financial crisis, Australia has been benefiting from its geography—close to the emerging economies of Asia—and its strong domestic economy. Melbourne Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Sandra Chipchase said that the city posted an astonishing 81 percent increase in convention visitors during the three years ending August 2009, due to a rebounding regional economy and the expanded space at the convention center.
Chipchase also noted that MCVB is a pioneer in using an online attendance-boosting tool, called My Melbourne, that asks registered and potential delegates about their interests and produces tailor-made promotions. “Once delegates have chosen the experiences which most appeal to their individual tastes, delegates are then presented with a customized video vignette which captures their chosen ‘My Melbourne’ experience,” she explained
One of the hottest tickets during AIME was the Business Event Forum, which pulled together industry insiders to discuss the big trends in events. One speaker, Cisco Australia and New Zealand Vice President Les Williamson, caused a stir when he described how his global organization experimented with replacing a 15,000-person live event in Las Vegas with a 2.5-day virtual meeting. While the online meeting saved tens of millions of dollars and an estimated 85,000 tons of carbon emissions, in the end it was deemed less effective than the face-to-face version. In a post-meeting survey, “the audience still emphatically felt they wanted this to be done in person,” he concluded. The more people meet face to face, the more they want to continue doing so, Williamson noted.
Deborah Sexton, president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association, agreed that technology can’t replace face-to-face contact. “If it’s a new product, people want to touch it, feel it, see how it works,” she observed. But she added that “if convention professionals are not embracing technology, they are making a big mistake.”
And Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association, said he believes virtual meetings will replace many smaller meetings—and many bad ones. “Let’s be honest,” he noted. “There are some pretty terrible meetings going on in our industry that have no objective and are not well thought-out.”
Sexton was honored with one of two inaugural AIME awards recognizing the work and commitment of meeting industry figures. The AIME Outstanding Contribution International Award was given in tribute to her achievements during more than 30 years in the industry. Sexton is the current chair of the Convention Industry Council.
Barrie Markey, managing director of International Convention Mangement Services, a professional congress organizer based in Melbourne, was honored with the AIME Oustanding Contribution Asia-Pacific Award.
In addition to business sessions, the AIME agenda included networking events that combined fun and local color, such as a group bongo-drumming session led by Human Rhythms at the opening breakfast and two jam-packed evening receptions showcasing venues in Melbourne’s reclaimed docklands, with spaces serving up foods, drinks, and entertainment representing life in the multicultural city.
Participants were reminded of Melbourne’s commitment to environmental sustainability at the opening day’s lunch, which showcased the impressive variety and quality of foods and wines from the Victoria regions, and included a clever map placemat showing the sources for the ingredients being served.