As emerging markets assume increasing importance for multinational corporations, these up-and-coming countries are becoming magnets for business meetings, incentive trips, conferences and trade shows.
UK exhibition and conference companies are expanding their activities across the globe as their corporate clients require them to help service off-shoots in markets from Asia and Africa to South America and the Middle East.
Business exhibitions can be vital for companies looking to expand in emerging markets since developing new business requires trust and face-to-face communication. Richard Wightman, head of division for conference and trade show organiser ITE Group, adds: “Reliable and up-to-date information is often lacking in emerging markets so a good trade show can be an ideal place to get experience of a market and its future potential. Added to that, if the market lacks a developed media sector, alternative marketing strategies are needed.”
While the BRIC economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are areas of strong growth, the former Soviet Union countries are also powerful emerging markets. “GDP growth rates in these markets have been impressive for many years, often feeding on increasing oil revenues, which drive other businesses,” says Wightman.
He points out that Azerbaijan has experienced GDP growth of 30% last year and 14% is predicted for next year. Russia has been growing at 8% a year. Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan are growing strongly at between 5% and 9%. “With growth comes dynamism, and the faster markets change, the greater the need to keep abreast of what’s happening. This is another factor behind the popularity of events in fast growing markets.”
Refreshing and lucrative
Some find the experience of running training sessions and sales meetings in emerging markets not only potentially lucrative but also quite refreshing. Carron Edmonds, managing director of Maverick Worldwide Events, which runs behavioural change courses for parcel carrier DHL, says creating events in emerging markets can be much more fun than dealing with people in Western countries. Westerners can tend to be world-weary and lacking in imagination.
“Emerging markets are the best,” Edmonds says. “There are amazing groups of people in these countries; they buy into what you are doing and are energised by it,” she adds. One year, the company ran training courses for DHL in Dubai at the A1 Formula One track. “We came up with a communications programme of how DHL has to be in pole position for their clients and we had a pole position training academy in converted garages at the track,” she explains.
The next year, the emphasis switched to showing how DHL had to be in top gear and the programme was run based on concept in mind. She admits that such ideas can sound “cheesy” to Western ears, but says those involved were very much enthused by it. Other initiatives run by Maverick have included creating a truck for DHL where the side opens out and it transforms into a training centre. This was taken around a number of emerging markets including Russia. Edmonds says that while they can be exciting and rewarding, emerging markets can also present challenges. For instance, the agency had planned to run training in Kenya this year but this was disrupted by the internecine fighting and the activities had to be transferred to Bahrain.
Blessings in disguise
Meanwhile, Rebekah Ager, partner services executive at independent ad agency confederation Worldwide Partners, says that some of the drawbacks of running a conference in an emerging market can actually turn out to be a blessing. “Going to an emerging market gives you something new and fresh, it is an exciting opportunity and takes people out of their comfort zone.
“From a conference planner’s point of view it can be good because, for instance, people’s cell phones (mobile phones) may not work correctly which means they have to pay more attention to what is happening at the conference.” Worldwide Partners, which brings together independent marketing services agencies from around the world, shifts its annual conference between the US, Europe and Asia.
At one conference the network held in China, some of the planned speakers pulled out at the last moment when a better offer came along that day. “China is the most interesting market where we’ve held a conference, it was an amazing opportunity. A meeting in an emerging market isn’t going to go the same way as in a developed market. You have to clear speakers on the day to ensure they are coming because if they find something better, they will attend that. And modes of transportation are not always as reliable. You need a partner to work with in the destination, so we always work with a destination management company. It will be a local contact that knows what works and what doesn’t.”
Many emerging economies which have built up a strong industrial base have also grown into emerging economies for the events industries. Hospitality and entertainment venues have grown around the corporate infrastructure to support the surge of corporate guests to these production hotspots.
Chris Carter at agency SMP says this is partly down to where the company chooses to host its events. “For a technology company that is launching a new product, it may be imperative to have the ability to reinforce the features behind the key offering at the head office. Hosting the event on-site will provide an opportunity to meet and greet the core team behind the new design or to see the factory where the product is being made,” he says.
Experience in the field
On the other hand if a company wants to demonstrate best in class retail marketing, a field visit by stakeholders from different regions will allow them to experience how their counterparts operate in a selected market. “This will enable the companies to host training events where there can be a visible benchmark, showcasing a coherent direction on where the firm intends to go in the future,” says Carter.
When selecting an event, companies must keep in mind perception, accessibility, focus and the message they intend to send as a result of the event, he says.
Meanwhile, some multinationals use experiences in emerging destinations as a combined training and incentive programme. Experiential company Jack Morton Worldwide has organised events in India for Philips, where the company took senior executives and gave them tasks to carry out and then report back to the management team. “They created something beyond just a primary experience, they got people out of the ordinary run of things and got them thinking and talking,” says Jack Morton creative director Simon Lethbridge. He adds that companies are looking for increasingly exotic locations to take hundreds of their staff on incentive trips.
However, this can spark a vicious circle where the next year an even more exotic location is required, he says. While many places such as Mauritius or the Maldives are rapidly building infrastructure for corporate entertaining, there is a limit to the numbers of executives who can be taken to there.
But there is no limit on the imagination of the organisers of incentive trips, conferences and meetings. They have an insatiable demand for new, exciting and exhilarating experiences with which to stimulate executives at multinational corporations.
Focus on Istanbul
Istanbul is the only city in the world which straddles two continents – Europe and Asia – and it can justifiably claim to be a meeting point between East and West. It is seeking to put itself on the map as a destination for conferences and incentive trips.
Turkey’s growing reputation as a tourist haunt stems partly from its mix of beaches and historic culture. Istanbul serves a role as a captivating stopping-off point on the way to the southern coastal areas.
Luxury hotel group Marmara, which operates a number of hotels across Turkey, is on a drive to attract corporate visits for meetings, conferences and incentive trips. All its hotels have extensive conference and exhibition spaces with facilities for business people plus an array of resources such as gyms, swimming pools and saunas.
The Marmara Istanbul, located in the central Taksim Square on the European side of the city, is certainly alluring. The hotel has views across the Bosphorus straits and is conveniently situated to explore Istanbul’s attractions.
Baris Kaya, marketing manager for international corporate projects at The Marmara Hotels & Residences, says Istanbul is still a virgin destination for multinationals. “We receive about 6 million visitors a year, and 4 or 5 million of these come for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions. Istanbul is really becoming a congress city – so much so that travel agents have complained because sometimes they can’t find rooms for leisure travellers,” he says. Next year the International Monetary Fund is holding its congress in the city and will bring an estimated 20,000 people.
Western companies are flocking to the city to hold conferences and offer staff incentive trips. The UK is a major source of corporate travel to Turkey and Marmara is on a drive to attract more British visitors. The five-star Marmara Istanbul has 377 rooms and extensive business facilities and conference and meetings technology, and can host everything from sales meetings to international conferences with up to 1,000 participants. It has two large ball rooms, The Grand Ballroom and the Taksim Ballroom and a new meeting space comprising six smaller meeting rooms and a business centre. The hotel has hosted conferences, banquets, galas and incentive programmes.
“At the Marmara Istanbul, we have hosted conferences for multinationals such as IBM, Danone, Siemens, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. We can offer top-class conference and meetings facilities right in the heart of Istanbul in one of the city’s most luxurious hotels. Then there’s our sister hotel the Marmara Pera a mile away in downtown Istanbul which has hosted meetings and incentive trips for Novartis and Toyota,” says Kaya.
Marmara also has a venue for parties and meetings, situated on the banks of the Bosphorus, the straits splitting Istanbul into its European and Asian halves. The Esma Sultan is a 19th century mansion named after its former owner, the daughter of the 32nd Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz. It has a garden, accessible by boat, and two levels, which can be used for dinners and receptions, hosting up to 3,000 people. Kate Moss, Princess Rania of Jordan and Prince Albert of Monaco have hosted parties there.
“This city has a lot to offer for incentive trips and there are lots of venues for the meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition (MICE) segment. We’ve got plenty of shopping and stunning culture. You can take a trip to see the ancient mosques in the old city and there is great night life and fantastic art. The Bosphorus Strait is amazing. We compete with destinations such as Prague and Budapest.” Perceptions of poor security have deterred visitors to the city, though the last major terrorist attack was the bombing of the HSBC building in 2003. This year, armed gunmen attacked the US Embassy leaving six dead. That said, it is comparatively safe in terms of street crime. Kaya says/ “I believe Istanbul is as safe as any other city in the world. Terrorism is global now.” According to the International Congress & Convention Association report in 2007, Istanbul has moved to 19th place in the world cities ranking, with 66 meetings held. It was 49th in the year 1998. The city has a new target of having 10 million visitors in 2010 up from 5.5 million at the end of 2007.
Another Marmara hotel is located outside Antalya on the Mediterranean coast of south-west Turkey and is also keen to build its reputation as a corporate destination. The Marmara Antalya has a ballroom measuring 865sq m without columns, which fits up to 1,000 people and is suitable for car shows. There are five meeting rooms up to 90sq m with adjacent pre-function areas and equipped with the latest technology. The hotel has a private natural beach on the sea and extensive grounds. A striking feature is the revolving annex, the world’s only hotel which turns a full 360 degrees on its foundations allowing all the guests in its 24 rooms to have a view of the sea.