Sinister budget plays and other dark arts

ITB Asia proved to be the Grand Central of travel, hospitality and business event shows this year. Seminars, briefings and satellite conferences seem to have mushroomed at the annual expo anchored in Singapore Tourism Board’s TravelRave week. 

Sponsored coffee breaks piggy-backed education sessions, PR wizards ferreted out the media in between exhibition booths and one hapless hotel group was left for a day or so without the glamour of branding after signage arrived late.

Europe had a strong presence on the exhibition floor, while a select, hardy few took advantage of the knowledge sessions upstairs at the Marina Bay Sands Convention and Exhibition Centre.

At previous shows, MCI held sway at sessions that involved corporate buyers of incentives and events, and the issues they faced. This year, however, the fledgling Icesap (Incentive, Conference Society Asia Pacific) powered an afternoon dedicated to the business events, conferences and business tourism, as incentive travel is becoming known.

In addition to providing a voice for the end-user, or buyers, Icesap is pioneering accreditation as a means of raising industry standards across the region. Online education is one of the means by which Icesap intends to raise standards along with a code of conduct for members.

Lisa Hopkins, of BCD M&I Asia Pacific, gave a stark warning of the “horror stories” end-users have faced as result of suppliers erring on services that have been paid for. Perhaps the gory details could have been shared had the event been held nearer Halloween, but the passion and reasoning was clear.

Earlier in the afternoon, it was the agency or creative planner side venting their spleen at nightmare procurement departments. The Singapore-based business event media impresario, El Kwang, sent a broadside across the bows of buyers who have a detached sense of reality when it came to budgeting. It would’ve sent a shudder down the spine of wedding planners to hear how an event-services purchaser would squeeze the last cent from an agency while lavishing millions on his daughter’s big day.

An event planner in the audience who spoke to MIX, went further. He saw the role of bodies such as Saceos (Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers) and Icesap as crucial in avoiding the “black magic that El was talking about”.

He went on to describe the situation as “basically abuse by uninformed, ignorant clients… it’s a downward spiral if everyone goes for cutting costs with ridiculous expectations. As they say, ‘you can’t have Champagne on a beer budget’ – but this is exactly what some clients are implying or even insisting on, strangely enough”.

It has yet to be seen whether an industry society will succeed in finding a common ground and lifting buyers and suppliers out of the darkness of excessive budget squeezing and fly-by-night event planners. In the meantime, follow the money.

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