Bronwen Largier sits down with the CEO of Talk2 Media and Events, Matt Pierce, to talk about the company’s plans as the incoming organiser of AIME 2019.
We dive in with the big question, what is Talk2 Media and Events’ vision for the Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event?
“I suppose it’s easy to say, ‘to take it back to its former glory…a bit trite really,” says Pierce, settling in for an insightful look at their already stated goal of of making changes to the hosted buyer program and addressing everything from change expectations to how technology might be able to deliver a better outcome for stakeholders.
While acknowledging the show is smaller than it used to be – and it goes without saying, what it could be in the future (ASE Editor Trevor Connell reflects the views of many attendees when referring to it as the “ever-shrinking AIME”) – Pierce is quick to give credit where it’s due in terms of Reed’s last show.
“I think they’ve done a good job with the show this year. It would be very easy to walk away – they didn’t, they carried on delivering and it shows that they take the market sectors they work in responsibly,” he says.
“Nonetheless, it was run by Reed Travel Exhibitions out of London. We’re a much more local organisation and it’s not parochialism, it’s just understanding this market,” he adds. “We are much more working in the region.”
He says Talk2 Media has already invested carefully in the people they’ll have running the show.
“We’ve gone to the industry and got the right people. Our event director [Jay Martens]…launched Asia Luxury Travel Market… [he] understands the market and understands the way hosted buyers work and what we need to do. Our sales manager is from a PCO background so understands what the bid process is…what the venues are like and so forth. And our hosted buyer manager was a hosted buyer manager…in London for IBTM.”
Hosted buyers will be a big focus for change as the new team take the reins.
“The hosted buyers will change, or the number and, we believe, the quality of the hosted buyers will change. We will be investing more heavily in the hosted buyers. An important component of what we see the show as being is, you’ve got to have the right buyers coming in.”
“The pre-scheduled appointments that we will offer exhibitors will be part of their stand cost. Currently it’s an addition, whereas, funnily enough at IBTM and IMEX it’s part of the stand cost. What you’re doing is you’re spreading the cost or the investment of getting all the hosted buyers in across all exhibitors. That’s how it’s going to get done – that’s no secret…if it costs more, you’ve got to find a way of funding that.
“By spreading the load across everybody the value increases to them because obviously there’s twice as many hosted buyers that they can choose from.”
Pierce says they are also looking at making the hosted buyer program more flexible.
“Some of the detractors say the hosted buyer program is too rigid. You know that ‘you’ve got all these appointments and I’m already known to a lot of people’ and so some of the anecdotal evidence we’ve had is that people are saying ‘I’d rather come in myself’.
“Maybe there is some flexibility in how you package up the hosted buyers and…part of what we’re looking at is just saying, ‘well, we need some of these people and they understand that they need to do some appointments but they also want the ability to roam the floor’.”
Pierce says “technology will play a big part” in providing that flexibility, explaining how they’re investigating how an event app might be able to keep both buyers and exhibitors apprised in near realtime of who is currently on the exhibition floor.
“By giving some flexibility to everybody, you start to make it work for them, not just work for a system. And it’s reasonable that we expect [hosted buyers] to do some appointments – ultimately we’re funding them to come in.”
He also believes the international market is now more receptive to engaging with Australia.
“The market is shifting – China’s much more active, I gather from some research that I was seeing that the Europeans are looking at Australia again and some of it I think has to do with the quality of air travel.
“I think the things that are changing are that there’s already slightly more legroom on some of these flights, the quality of the air in the plane and the lighting and the ambiance is undoubtedly improved, the quality of the entertainment has improved and you can always download Netflix and bring it yourself. There’s a whole lot of stuff that’s going on that says, ‘you know what, long haul isn’t as bad as we always thought it was going to be’. I think that’s part of it…it’s a more comfortable experience.”
In 2019, hosted buyer targets set out by Talk2 Media include 16 percent of buyers coming from Europe and 30 percent coming from Asia with the largest portion of that from China.
On the subject of change and with many people expecting something big from AIME’s new organiser after Reed’s 16 year tenure, Pierce warns that the expo format will not be thrown out the window.
“I suppose that’s the challenge because you want it to be different or fresh but…it works to a point so you don’t want to change everything just because you’re the new kid on the block.
“I always get nervous when we talk about making a wholesale change, almost for change’s sake. Yes we are making change, there’s no doubt about that. But we’ll still be in an exhibition hall, there will still be stands there – those things won’t change.”
Pierce also sheds light on the the relationship with Melbourne Convention Bureau as the show’s owners and how the unusual dynamic of also working with many other convention bureaux is managed.
“In terms of control, they own it, they must have a say, we respect that, but when it comes to the actual day to day running of the show, that’s down to us – we will appoint the people we think are appropriate and we only have one interest in mind and that is to make the show grow.
“Apart from benefiting from that, the MCB also wants it to grow, so we’ve found that we established the common ground early and if we find ground that is less common later on, I suspect it will be the early things that we found will be the driving guidelines or principles that see us through that.”
To wrap things up, does Pierce feel pressure producing an event for the industry?
“Yeah, no doubt,” he says. “I mean, the theory’s fine. Ask me in a year.”
We’ll do that.