Arnaldo Nardone is chairman of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), the most prominent organisation in the MICE sector. It has more than 900-member companies and organisations in 87 countries worldwide, with offices in the Netherlands, Malaysia, the United States and Uruguay.
Q: It seems the global convention industry is looking for direction in the face of the unfavourable economic situation and the euro-zone crisis. How do you see the current state of the industry?
A: Meetings don’t take place in a vacuum; they are linked to economic activity, trade development and advances in science, technology and health care. I am an optimist with regard to opportunities and growth in both the medium and long term but, in the short term, it is undoubtedly true that many destinations and companies face uncertainty and turbulence.
We have seen competition increase non-stop throughout the downturn, with major infrastructure investment planned before the financial crisis coming on stream now when times are tougher. I come from a hotel background and this is nothing new.
Q: What would be your advice under such business conditions?
A: What we are also seeing is a split between companies that are strategically positioning themselves as value-added partners and those that are becoming suppliers of commoditised services. My view is that the former option offers the best prospects for success rather than fighting on price to supply relatively unsophisticated services. We see Hong Kong and Singapore as among the most advanced in this regard.
Q: How do you see the growth and development of convention business in Hong Kong?
A: Hong Kong has always had two great advantages: as a financial centre and as an easy gateway into the mainland market. This latter role has never been more important, since so many meetings are related to companies’ desire to do business with China. China itself is still a relatively complicated place to run a large, complex international meeting, but awareness and skills are growing fast. Hong Kong needs to watch out and get even smarter about helping the world connect with the mainland.
Q: What’s needed for Hong Kong to get a bigger share of the market?
A: The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre is a world-class facility, while AsiaWorld-Expo is also brilliant for trade fairs. The hotels and organisational skills in Hong Kong are also first rate. I think where Hong Kong can be even more successful is in linking event-attraction strategy to economic-development goals. Singapore led the way in this field and Australia, South Korea and Taiwan are now following the same route to attract business.