March 2010 Conference+ Meetings World www. c- mw. net 13 CITY FOCUS A msterdam is Europe's fifth busiest business destination, according to numerous surveys. The city has a tourism reputation built on culture, entertainment and, for business, an increasing variety of venues, led by the huge RAI complex. The Dutch capital this year celebrates its nautical and water- based heritage with the Water Sensations 2010 campaign. Amsterdam's waters run deep for meetings, too, in a city that can handle 270 flights a day at its Schiphol airport and boasts 350 hotels and a total of 18,000 rooms. This year, Amsterdam RAI hosts four events connected to water, including Benelux's largest boat show, HISWA, and international fairs Aquaterra and Aquatech. The 8th edition of SAIL takes place in August: the largest public event in Holland. For five days the city harbour will be the setting for a programme of music, culture and 600 ships, including Tall Ships. The RAI delivered its ? 50m venue baby extension at the end of last year. The Elicium has 20 meeting rooms and 30 more if four floors of offices are converted. RAI, which started out as an organiser of car and bicycle shows in 1893, is averaging 50 international congresses, 70 trade fairs, and hundreds of smaller meetings a year. There are plans for an 800- room hotel to be added to the site within three years. After a difficult 2009, commercial director at RAI, Maurits van der Sluis, tells CMWthe calendar for 2010 " looks surprisingly good". Van der Sluis salvaged the RAI's blue ribband auto event, Auto RAI, from the wreckage of Europe's motor show crashes last year. " Our cut down motor show last April was 80,000sqm gross, not bad in time of crisis. We had to invest a lot and revenue was lower than usual. But we succeeded in keeping the show alive as car producers and dealers went bankrupt. We anticipated well last year and have booked in some big international conferences for 2010- 2013." The 2010 events menu includes the World Congress on Information Technology ( May); Power Gen Europe 2010 ( June) and Sibos 2010 ( October) for the finance industry. Top Gear Live in January was fully booked. A new RAI Leads programme is aiming to deliver the right visitors for organisers, via hosted buyer programmes and lead generation systems. Van der Sluis says he is happy to be concentrating on the association market. " We made a mistake at end of the 1990s in Old meetings master: Amsterdam focusing too much on corporate business and exhibitions. With associations booking a few years in advance, our diary is looking good since we changed tack." " Organisers are demanding more value," he adds. " We understand that. We have grown with them, so when they suffered, we suffered with them. RAI doesn't just say, ' Pay and goodbye'; we're in it together." City developments The Novotel Amsterdam City next to the RAI has renovated all 610 rooms and has a new congress centre for 1,000 delegates. It is the only four- star in the area able to offer bedroom, dining and meeting facilities to groups as large as 450 in one location. The NEMO science and technology centre on Amsterdam's Eastern Dock has a 22m roof terrace offering views over the old city. Its Columbus Foyer offers space under cover and organisers can run events among the exhibits after closing time. With its 21 rooms and halls, the Beurs van Berlage, the former Stock Exchange, offers meetings facilities in the historic heart of Amsterdam. This summer, the Yakult Hall becomes a flexible space, able to cater for parties for up to 600. The Hotel Okura Amsterdam has four restaurants and a Taste of Okura centre, where groups can learn to prepare the chefs' dishes themselves. The five- star Sofitel Amsterdam Grand completes a conversion this spring, offering 17 conference rooms and 1,400 sqm of event space in the former City Hall building. The RAI and its Elicium are looking to surf new business waters in a ' sensational' 2010 Maurits Van der Sluis The Dutch capital is looking to ' Water Sensations' to add a splash of colour to the conference canvas.
14www. c- mw. net Conference+ Meetings WorldMarch 2010 COUNTRY FOCUS A s great swaths of Europe, Asia and America suffered economic recession, China continued its growth, with its GDP closing in on Japan's to become the world's second largest economy. It has already passed Germany to become the world's largest exporter. Information and events consultancy Business Strategy Group Asia's new MD Mark Cochrane tells CMW: " On the back of this booming economy, China's meetings and conference market has roared to life". The Times newspaper in London even speculated on 4 February that the new model of capitalism could be a variant of the authoritarian state- led capitalism favoured in China, Russia and other emerging economies, rather than a reformed version of the Western democratic system. China clearly favours domestic industries over Western exporters and investors. Its recent wave of convention centre construction is more likely to end up serving local demand than international meetings business, however. It is a market that can be both intriguing and confusing. It clearly takes patience and local partnerships to unlock China's trade potential for foreign partners. While Microsoft prospers on this market, Google has been forced to consider its position amid allegations of political censorship. Beijing is trying to take on the baton of its Olympic legacy and, as China's capital and government HQ, the city is the hub of the country's meetings industry. Despite a reining in of construction projects last year and spending cuts on government meetings and travel, by mid- 2009 China's accommodation and catering industry was still showing year- on- year growth of 18.1 per cent, according to Grass Root's Meetings Industry Reportpublished last month. Alicia Yao Hong of China International Travel Services is one voice that sounds a note of caution. " Many incentives have been cancelled," she says. " Some companies may still go on with their planned programmes but to a more limited budget and lower profile." China coastal areas and their venues are not seeing the growth levels of Beijing and Shanghai. Conference cultural revolution? So how do international organisers view the China conference syndrome? President of UBM Asia, Jime Essink, sees a shift over the past couple of years. " Traditionally, with the exception of the high- end events focused on the international market, Chinese conferences tended to be free to attend and of poor quality. Some of this was led by the need to fill occupancy in the new venues, but mainly this was due to the fact that conference activity was driven by sponsorship first and then delegate requirement second. This means that conference programmes were unresearched, with the focus being on what the sponsors and speakers could get from an event, rather than maximising the learning/ information- giving experience of the delegates." " At UBM," says Essink, " we have started to see a culture change in the way our customers feel. The feedback from our clients is that they will now pay for quality." Essink believes the Chinese market responds well to established brands, and UBM has had success with its portfolio of conferences across a variety of sectors, including shipping, medical, pharmaceutical Year of the Tiger As Beijing builds on its Olympic legacy for business tourism and Shanghai readies for the US$ 45bn World Expo 2010, CMWinvestigates whether it could be the year of the meetings tiger. Shanghai World Expo runs from May to October 2010 and will be worth US$ 45bn UBM Asia's Jime Essink identifies a ' cultural change': " Customers will now pay for quality" US 1.5% Germany 0.3% France0.9% UK0.9% Japan1.7% India6.4% China9% ' On the back of this booming economy, China's meetings and conference market has roared to life.' IMF growth forecast 2010