Asia Pacific conference and exhibition industry turning to the East


CEI Magazine's Annual Industry Survey of the Asia Pacific, the authoritative industry snapshop of the convention, exhibition and incentive sectors across Asia Pacific, shows New Zealand is maintaining and slowly growing its share of event activity. However, Mike Kelly, Executive Director of venue manager NCC (NZ) Ltd, says powerful new players are gaining momentum as exotic destinations for business travel - which may be at a cost to Australian and New Zealand centres.


The survey, conducted by CEI magazine in conjunction with global research house Synovate, showed several emerging trends:


What does this mean for New Zealand's business travel industry, and what are the implications for Christchurch, which has the largest infrastructure of purpose built international standard convention and exhibition facilities?


New Zealand had 2.46% of the regional corporate buyer market for exhibitions in 2004 and in 2005 is projected to have 1.64% of the lucrative incentives market, so we are relatively small players. Those numbers disguise the impact of the business, e.g. Christchurch benefits by $50 - 70 million a year from conventions held at the Christchurch Convention Centre and the Westpac Centre. Australia, despite its superb range of venues and well oiled and state funded support services, is facing tough competition from the emerging Asian destinations and we too will inevitably be affected by the extension of that tectonic industry shift to North Asia.


The survey shows a significant swing of both conventions and exhibitions to new destinations that are seen as exciting with rich historic and cultural traditions, good quality hotels and excellent airports - a mix of the exotic and convenient. In that context, as a niche market player, a competitive advantage we can offer is the invaluable support of a full range of professional services to ensure successful events. This includes everything from strong and demonstrated PCO conference services to creative incentive destination management.


The research identified the factors influencing choice of destination for corporate incentive travel - security, pricing, accessibility, a fresh new destination, infrastructure, leisure/cultural options, and language. Major industry influencers for the association markets in 2005 in the conference, exhibition and incentives industry will be

Destinations such as Thailand and Vietnam offer real price advantages. John Koldowski, Managing Director, Strategic Intelligence Centre, Pacific Asia Travel Association, predicts more than 300 million visitors will descend on the Asia Pacific region this year. He said the conference, exhibitions and incentives (CEI) sector within the larger travel and leisure tourism industry has consistently been a  major contributor in numbers but more significantly in yields, having a higher value-added than leisure tourism.


The New Zealand Tourism Department focus on the interactive traveller, where environmental impacts are minimised and financial yield impacts are maximised, mirrors all the characteristics and qualities of a conference delegate. We have come to call these conference delegates business tourists in part to solicit the attention of Tourism officials who hold the purse strings for effective international branding and marketing.


Mike Kelly indicates that while the Tourism Department is bang on in targeting the interactive traveller they haven't made the connection that conference delegates, or business visitors, are the ultimate interactive traveller. The New Zealand strategies are still maturing and will eventually grasp the reality of high yield returns coming from the meetings industry for the country.


China now has absolute dominance of the Asia Pacific exhibition market, and has made a rapid rise as an industrial and exhibition destination. Vietnam and Indonesia were identified as the emerging conference and incentive destinations. They also carry a perception of mystique to be discovered by delegates and partners - an important element in the choice of destination for business travel.


Last year there was an extension of direct air routes from China into the Pacific Islands. Corporate business travel will follow offering good value for money packages in quality hotels and properties. One destination to watch is Fiji which has already won some major events such as Vodafone's 2005 Asia-Pacific Leadership Awards for Australia, NZ, Fiji and Japan. Last year the event was held in Hawaii. There's an upside too - Amway China flew almost 14,000 of its agents to Sydney in January. That gives a good idea of the scale of the Chinese corporate stakes.


As China consolidates its position as the global manufacturing hub we can expect to see even more trade exhibitions in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities within that development sphere as their infrastructure and industrial market share develops. Inter-textile 2005 is being held in Beijing, combining proximity to manufacturing bases with an attractive and compelling treasure trove of new and unique attractions.


And just as China dominates the textile industries, India is gaining its strategic economic strength in telecommunications, broadcasting, IT and insurance sectors - so the largest conventions and trade shows will follow as their venues and infrastructure develops, especially in New Delhi, Bangalore, Goa, Mumbai, Kerala and Rajasthan.


New Zealand was in 14th place on the list identifying growth potential, ahead of the Philippines and behind Dubai. Australia was in third place, behind Hong Kong and China but ahead of Thailand, India, Singapore and Malaysia.


Air connections and product awareness remain vital components of business travel, which is one of the reasons Christchurch is strongly represented in the major industry trade show and exhibition events. The Convention Centre will send representatives to Australia's dominant event, AIME 2005 (Asia Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo) in Melbourne, 22-23 February. This trade show alone has more than 800 exhibitors. NCC (New Zealand) Ltd, the management company for the venue, partners with several local and national organisations to synchronize and optimise sales and profiling efforts.


The core commercial advantages for Christchurch remain the same - an English speaking population, a beautiful country, a gracious and sophisticated city, reasonable access to international flights, a close international airport, a relatively sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure and a compact and convenient CBD with purpose built international meeting venues with a wealth of provincial scenic and adventure touring options.


New Zealand's CEI destiny is closely linked to the populations and future trends in Asia. They will come to dominate some conference and exhibition categories because they are new and are prepared to invest in growth but longer term they will provide us with a huge amount of business as their markets mature. The investment North Asia is making in infrastructure will drive promotional discounts for several years. At the same time, they will become our competitors and their destinations will have appeal for the domestic corporations both in New Zealand and Australia.


It is certainly an exciting and challenging time for the conference, exhibition and incentive industries and for the venue management industry which houses them!