Expect to see increased localisation and use of technology in business meetings in APAC this year, aligning with global trends outlined in the Global Business Travel Forecast released recently.
Emily Richardson, strategic account manager and market leader for Hong Kong and Taiwan with American Express Meetings and Events, said meeting planners are starting to work more directly with client offices based in the region in order to take local nuances into account.
“A lot of companies are finding that they need to be a little bit more flexible with global programmes," she told CEI. "I think it is having a very positive impact in APAC.”
At the same time, compliance remains a key focus in the meetings space, especially in emerging destinations such as China, which has seen more business travel and headquarters openings by international companies.
“There’s a lot of uncertainties when it comes to planning events in China," Richardson said. "For clients who have not visited China, they may not be familiar with the processes and assume that how things work in the country may be the same there."
The safe approach, she pointed out, has been outsourcing to local companies that have the SOPs in place to execute events in China. “I think with China, it’s about having control and processes in place," she said. "It goes right back to compliance, how do we ensure global programmes are following the guidelines, how to ensure travel safety and security."
Driven by the steady stream of visitors and business travellers, Shanghai leads the APAC region in inventory growth, with close to 10,000 hotel rooms under construction. However, hotel rates in Shanghai are predicted to stay flat or see a very slight increase this year, an effect that will benefit the business meeting industry, said Richardson.
Meanwhile, Korea is the only country listed in the report forecasted to have lower hotel room rates, with Seoul rates predicted to fall 1% following the group tour ban from China in the aftermath of the THAAD fallout.
Despite geopolitical tensions between South Korea and both China and North Korea, Seoul has not taken a hit in business travel.
“Seoul is a popular business event destination with great air connectivity and digitally connected," said Richardson. "Some of the customers have come to ask us about Seoul, but we have not been seeing any effects on the city. Like any event planner, we ensure that geopolitical elements are taken into account.”
If anything, Richardson said the decreased hotel rates in Korea are good news on the budget.
Even though hologram meetings are no longer the stuff of sci-fi dreams and VR has become a commonplace sight in business events, Richardson emphasised that the focus on tech-mediated meetings must remain grounded in enhacing attendees’ experience. “How do we make it more facilitating for them?" she said. "How do we engage attendees online and offline, network with them more, that doesn’t necessarily have to be face-to-face,” she said.
It boils down to cost as well. “How does that (technology) add value, as people are trying to get more for their money with budget constraints,” said Richardson.
From the cost perspective, virtual meetings faciliated by hybrid solutions will be able to reduce the number of attendees by half in certain cases. Richardson believed that the heightened interest on AI is promising but its potential in business meetings in the APAC region is still unclear.