From quantum physics to China events

Shane Ullman found being tied to a computer for long hours stifling, so he opted for the people’s industry of business events and incentive travel. His journey has taken him from Sydney to Shanghai and positions with Insiders Experience and BI Worldwide before he founded Travel Events Asia. Shane took a little time out between trade shows and looking after groups to share more with MIX.

What was your career and academic background before you entered the business events industry – and what brought you into this field?
I was doing quantum physics research, having studied applied physics. I hated it and wanted to be around people more as I was glued to a computer doing simulations for around a year. Having had experience in hospitality, and some large events, I got into the tourism and events industry.

You’re based in Shanghai – how did this shape the progress of your company and your outlook on China?
China is our main focus. We mostly deal with inbound groups coming to China, as it is daunting for many people. We can support with other parts of Asia, but China really is our specialty.

How does your team operate and what types of events are you involved with?
I deal with all of the sales, and we have a few operations people in Shanghai. Our core team is five strong, but when we have events we call on a lot of suppliers and can have up to 50 people working on some of the larger events. We do up to about 500-pax conferences, but we are also happy to work with smaller groups of about 20 doing tours around China.

You spoke at ITB China about the changes that the One Belt One Road may bring for people organising events and corporate travel. Has your outlook changed in any way? Are the challenges and opportunities greater or in any way different now?
I spoke mostly about the opportunities that would open up for Chinese people along the Belt and Road in places like Pakistan, Serbia and others along the way. I was quite optimistic that there would be great opportunities there, as Serbia had experienced a 400 per cent increase in Chinese tourists year on year.

However, I still think these places are a long-term commitment that would be life changing for anybody headed over there to start a business. I’m looking for ways to connect my business in the other direction to Australia, which I think is also a great opportunity.

Any mid- to long-term plans for Travel Events Asia?
We’re not going to do any aggressive expansion right now. We have some great clients and we want to focus and grow with them. We are building capabilities for Chinese travellers to Australia, so that is exciting.

Do you have any recent event that you and your team look back on with particular pride?
We recently held a board meeting for a booming hotel company in Chengdu. This was really exciting as we helped with all aspects of the event, from choosing their hotel, flights into Chengdu and meeting services throughout the week.

One of the highlights was finding a perfect private little bar in Chengdu, with great whisky and cocktails. Those guys knew how to party and I joined in the operations for this one, so stayed up with them to make sure they got home safe.

Shane Ullman is managing director of Travel Events Asia. He was interviewed by Martin Donovan

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