There’s been a spirit of turning the clock back of late. A temptation to recall the distant glory days and pioneering spirit of imperialism – a feeling that has left the UK wondering what the hell it’s done in voting to leave the European Union. Yet, despite its faults, empire building brought some enduring enterprise.
I was reminded of this on a visit to the Korea MICE Expo at Songdo Convensia, Incheon, earlier this month when I saw big and small players in the meetings and exhibition industry compete in the Great Game of expansionism. You come across them regularly at trade shows and on media-fam trips from Shanghai to Singapore, and Tokyo to Thailand.
First, let’s touch on the days of the Great Game when the British and Russian empires vied for influence in Central Asia. After all, their likes are still with us today in meetings and events. It was a time of pioneering adventure when the two powers vied for influence across the plains of central Asia. Forging alliances with tribal leaders here, mapping out territory there. Military officers from each side would bump into each other occasionally as they scaled mountains or scoured the area to camp for the night.
Fast forward to the Songdo Convensia on June 6, 2016, and the modern versions of the empire builders were striding around the exhibition hall. Unlike the days of military imperialism, these guys are more amiable and friendly, but not necessarily to each other.
It’s always a pleasure to meet the gentleman from the MICE company in Tokyo. But what badge is he wearing today – Media, Exhibitor? No, Buyer. Then there are the Singaporeans – the stormtroopers of the meetings industry. Once an “editorial guy”, he’s now moved on to better things and wears the Buyer badge. He should be wearing the Trade Visitor lanyard, but the show is not open to the that lot today.
As in the Great Game of yore, the European chap from the multinational exhibition company is sizing up the Korea MICE operation: potential exhibitors, the number of booths, whoever has the biggest usually signifies budget, oodles of it. He looks furtively left and right to avoid bumping into the guys from Tokyo and Singapore before whipping out the smartphone to report to head office.
Observing trade show versions of the Great Game brings more surprises – but not, apparently, if you’ve been attending year after year. Take IT&CM China and the Asia edition of the show in Bangkok and behold the media pack. A gentleman from Brussels who operates what is called these days an “electronic newsletter” gets up during the organiser’s press conference in Shanghai and remarks on the lack of English-language skills among the local population. In his esteemed opinion, China will never be up there with the best until something is done about this. It’s not a question, it’s a speech, a lecture or more accurately, a load of tripe.
I’m told by one of the bona fide, but nonetheless tired and weary, journalists in the pack that the man from Brussels says the same thing each year at IT&CM events. For IT&CM Asia in Bangkok he varies it by commenting on the number of people visiting the trade floor and exhibition venue wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts as tropical temperatures outside swell outside.
And his reason for being there as hosted media? He gives the organisers the names of buyers whose locations span the great plains of Europe. The Great Game indeed.