As I travel around Asia, particularly in China, speaking at, and chairing, large scale Conferences, Events and Expos, I am always struck by the huge sums of money being spent by organisers to put on a big show. Whilst in the western world, people attend conferences based on the quality and relevance of the content (opportunity to learn) and the networking (opportunity to meet valuable connections), in Asia its often more about the scale of the show (opportunity to give face) and the food (expression of the local culture). It seems to me that this is a great opportunity for leading players in the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (“MICE”) industry to promote their capabilities in Asia and capitalise on the growing demand to:
  • Organise large scale events in alluring and attractive overseas destinations where delegates can explore local cultures and environments whilst attending a business event
  • Import world class expertise, capabilities and technology to deliver even bigger and better conferences in their home country
From my research, the addressable market for the Meetings and Events industry in the Asia Pacific region is currently around $230 billion, a number which is predicted to grow by over 8% per annum to nearly $450 billion in only 6 years time by 2025. That’s a big number. I recently chaired a panel discussion at the annual conference of Meeting and Events Australia (MEA) on “Unlocking Business Potential in Asia” which provided some interesting insights with the help of two experienced MICE experts, Geoff Donaghy and Mike Williams. Here are some of the key points that came out of this session: 1.) Asia is not one market

It goes without saying, but it’s often forgotten, that the Asian region is made up of many countries displaying a huge diversity of nationalities, cultures, language, history, customs and even types of food. It would take a lifetime to master any one of these countries (particularly China or India) no matter lumping them all together into one homogenous grouping.

We mainly talked about Japan (a large domestic market which offers good potential but, being quite insular, takes time to break in), Malaysia (an important market for the MICE industry in SE Asia), India (an emerging giant) and of course China (the fastest growing market in the region).

My research and experience on the ground suggests that China’s outbound business and leisure travel markets, which has seen significant growth over the last few decades, make it the world’s most valuable outbound travel market and offers huge potential to the MICE industry based on the following:

    • Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and Chinese Trade Associations are being encouraged to expand their overseas operations and commercial activities
    • Western companies are keen to host their own conferences and events in China to provide opportunities for their delegates to get a taste of the world’s fastest growing economy (I am regularly asked to speak at these, including organising study tours before or after the main event).
    • The immediate opportunity for MICE players in China is to tap into the ‘corporate incentive business’ which are designed to:
        • Reward high performance
        • Motivate sales and improve performance
        • Team building and relationship building
        • Broaden staff horizons and increase their engagement with the global market
        • Expand their presence in new overseas markets
        • Travel to alluring overseas destinations
    • As an example, “Perfect China”, one of China’s leading direct-sales organisations with 7,000 chain outlets nationwide, took 4,500 delegates to Toronto in May 2016 – the largest incentive travel group to ever visit Canada.
    • Chinese Associations are being encouraged to run commercial operations, which will include hosting Association events overseas, and have been given greater autonomy by the Government to represent their industries and members overseas (our Australia China SME Association is regularly asked to meet with Chinese Associations on visits to Australia)
    • The key industry sectors for incentive groups are Direct Sales, Pharmaceuticals, Banking and Insurance, Automotive and IT.
 2. Refine your Product Offering

Key products to focus on are:

    • Corporate Incentive Programs
    • Associations Meetings, Events and Expos
    • Annual Kick Off Meetings (often held in January)

A few key points were made in relation to the above:

    • Whilst budgets are large, and expectations are high, you shouldn’t be too transparent with your pricing as there will always be a tough negotiation and you need room to move
    • The quality and supply of the food is especially important. At Asian events, high quality local and international food is available throughout the day, not just during the breaks
    • Consider language differences and be ready to offer translation and interpreting services to assist all delegates aswell as the speakers
    • The signing of the contract is often regarded as just the start of the relationship with Asian buyers. You need to be flexible with regard to timelines, budget and deliverables because these can change regularly and unexpectedly.
    • Don’t forget that “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes” in Asia.
    • As with many other industries, “Double your budget and halve your expectations” when doing business in Asia. It is likely to take longer than you expect, and cost more than you anticipate, to build long term trusted relationships.
3. The Three “Rs”

Geoff Donaghy came up with three key points for everyone to take away from the session:

Research – do your research. Pick one market only, based on proper objective research, not ‘gut feel’ or arbitrary emotional factors, and understand (a) where you’re going (b) why you’re going there, and (c) what you hope to achieve when you get there.

Relationships – focus on the relationship not the transaction. It takes time to build trusted relationships in Asia and you should take this slowly and with a genuine intent to make friends. (See my “Three Cups of Tea” ebook on this topic)

Realism – it takes time and hard work to do business in Asia. Be realistic about this and focus on the journey as much as the destination.


The Asia Pacific region is expected to lead the way for global growth in 2019 and is already being hotly contested by leading Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (“MICE”) organisers in many destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, Europe (particularly France and UK) and the USA (notably Hawaii) who are starting to see the long term economic benefits (in the tourism, retail, education and real estate sectors) from hosting large scale events for Asian audiences. It is likely that Governments will start investing more money into their local MICE industry to support these activities and to stimulate demand from overseas.

This creates the perfect opportunity for leading MICE players, attractive destinations and major conference centres to get serious about building a long term, sustainable and effective Asian strategy. Contact us at for support or advice in this area.

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