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A blend of East and West at AIME, and a few ideas to change your thinking

Posted on 28 Feb 2013 at 20:00 pm by Yeoh Siew Hoon

Walking around AIME (Asia Pacific Incentive & Meetings Expo) in Melbourne this week and a few trends are evident.

One, the Asian quotient of the show is growing not just in terms of Asian exhibitors wanting to sell to Australian buyers but Asian buyers looking to buy not just Australian content but also Asian product.

After 21 years of doggedly working away at the event, organisers Reed Travel Exhibitions and owner the newly-renamed Melbourne Convention Bureau have developed a show that now lives up to its billing as “the premier exhibition in the Asia-Pacific region for the meetings and incentives industry”.

In its earlier years, it was natural that it was Australia-dominated. Melbourne was too far from the centre of Asia to really claim pole position for the region but with time, market changes, air accessibility and industry maturity, the event has achieved a good balance between Australia and Asia – East and West.

I’ve always considered Australia to be the leader in the meetings and incentives space –they know how to hold and stage events, their event planners and organisers are creative and events in general have strong production values. There’s also a strong tradition of Australians attending events as a form of learning.

The Ultimate Event produced by Saxton Speakers Bureau and held on Tuesday morning was proof of that. It was a two-hour musical-cum-motivational event that thrilled a crowd of 1,500 – proving that there’s nothing more powerful than a well-produced live event to inspire and stimulate thinking.

Countries in Asia have much to learn from Australia in this regard – so the balance that’s finally been achieved by AIME 2013 provides a great platform for two-way exchange so that we can blend the best of East and West. (The Malaysia Spice Market was a popular spot for meal breaks serving not-too-bad Malaysian food cooked by Australian chefs)

The other trend I observed is the blurring of lines between corporate travel and meetings as corporations increasingly see overlaps between the two areas. ACTE (Association of Corporate Travel Executives) is stepping up activity in the meetings area, it held a couple of sessions at AIME and I met corporate buyers who increasingly hold dual portfolios.

But what inspired me most at this year’s AIME were the insights I drew from the first CEO Summit which I happened to moderate on Tuesday afternoon. This is a series of CEO Summits being rolled out by Reed Travel Exhibitions at its events and it’s designed to take chief executives’ minds away from day-to-day issues and get them to think about the larger issues that affect business.

The four-hour session was an experiment so no one really knew quite what to expect – least of all me – but the desired outcome was that CEOs would walk away with fresh thinking and a few ideas they could implement in their business.

I certainly walked away with a few ideas.

Here are a few.

1.     The world is divided between “submerged” and “emerging” economies – 90% of the world is actually emerging. Think new markets such as Myanmar and Ethiopia, for instance.

2.     But 90% of media coverage is focused on 10% of the world’s problems because mass media is being driven by Western journalists domiciled in the “submerged” economies of the US and Europe.

3.     Greece is a tragedy but does it really matter? The Greek economy is US$300 billion – China produces a Greece every four months.

4.     Indonesia is an economic success story – but the mentions it gets in Australia’s media are mainly linked to Islamic terrorism and corruption.

5.     Therefore, to get a more balanced view of the world and change your prism of thinking, diversify your reading and seek alternative news – you are what you read. Now you can curate your own reading.

6.     It’s no longer “up to you, New York, New York” – it’s now “up to you, Chongqing, Chongqing”.

7.     The rise of the Asian middle class will produce the most significant and “defining economic phenomenon” of our lifetime.

8.     Away from economics – research has shown that virtual flow of information leads to a greater desire for people to meet physically and that “passionate people who have an engaging disposition and want to connect like to go to conferences”.

9.     The key to live conferences therefore is to “amplify” the flow of information from virtual to physical and shape serendipity, using new tools and ideas.

10.  The rapid evolution of digital platforms has created knowledge flow, ideas and capabilities and organisations need to become fast, open and connected to take full advantage of this new phenomenon. “You have to out-tempo your competition.”

11.  The capability of individuals to absorb technology exceeds the capability of organisations to do so – individuals have better connectivity at home now than in offices. New thinking is needed to create the workplace of the future to attract youths.

12.  Innovation cannot be mandated. It has to be led from the top down but created from the ground up. Processes must be put in place where ideas can be executed and its progress tracked. Could there be an “industry incubator” approach for ideas if it’s beyond the capability of governments or individual organisations to do it effectively?

13.  Companies must set aside time to innovate, and time to think and listen.

On that note, it’s time for me to catch my flight back to Singapore which I think has done a great job of blending East and West in the last 20 years but now stands on the cusp of a watershed moment as it struggles to remain relevant in the years ahead – an ageing population, growing anti-foreigner sentiment and local resistance to government’s plan to increase the population with migration are all challenges to be tackled.

And meanwhile in South Korea, the first woman prime minister Chung Hong-won has been sworn in and in her inauguration speech, she mentioned the word “happiness” at least 18 times. Watch out world as a new generation of Asians strive for work-life balance in the pursuit of happiness.

Thank you, Melbourne, for a happy and productive time.

PS Check out the flashmob dance that happened at the welcome reception held at the St Kilda Sea Baths in Melbourne.


Tags: AIME , incentives , meetings , exhibition , melbourne , trends , corporate travel , innovation , technology