The China Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (CIBTM) is the torch bearer for bringing Beijing and China’s meeting industry to a global audience, and the 2011 event was the biggest to date.
THE FINAL FEW HOURS OF THE GREGORIAN CALENDAR is the green light for party time across the planet, the 10-second countdown to the New Year sparking the annual pyrotechnic pageant. From New Zealand’s Christchurch to Canada’s Vancouver, across every time zone major cities vie for the title of most extravagant celebration. London, New York, Sydney and Paris regularly grab the headlines. Conspicuously absent from international festivities transforming the New Year’s Eve night sky into a kaleidoscope, however, has been the country that gave fireworks to the world: China. Until 2011, that is.
While China’s own New Year celebration is set by their lunisolar calendar and generally falls between the end of January and mid-February, Beijing’s first official New Year’s Eve outdoor celebration for the slide from 2011 into 2012 saw the Chinese capital join the global party. With a stunning laser and light show projected onto the Temple of Heaven—one of the city’s many cultural treasures—it was Beijing’s largest marketing coup since hosting the 2008 Olympic Summer Games.
“After the Olympics, we know we can put together a big event,” said Sun Weijia, vice chairman of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Tourism Development (BTD). “It’s about time, too.”
Perhaps it was about time that Beijing was again capturing the world’s attention, yet the city’s 2008 Olympic Games linger in the collective memory. Its opening ceremony, a portent of just how well organized and impressive the event would be, is widely regarded as the greatest of all time. Performed in front of more than 100 heads of state (the largest in Olympic history) and to a global TV audience, its grandeur and creativity dazzled spectators, with then British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailing it as “the spectacular to end all spectaculars and can probably never be bettered.”
Equally spectacular has been the speed with which China, in just three decades, has risen from slumbering giant to one of the world’s economic powerhouses. Since their first Olympic participation in 1980, two years after major economic restructuring initiatives allowed for foreign investment and privatization, 30 years of unprecedented growth allowed the state to allocate US$15 billion directly to the games. And up to an additional $200 billion have been invested in Beijing’s infrastructure, bestowing upon it an enormous and wide-ranging legacy.
Adjacent to the Olympic Green precinct’s iconic Bird’s Nest stadium, the media center has become an important strand of this legacy for the meeting industry. Closed post-games for a retrofit, the building re-opened in November 2009 in its new guise—the China National Convention Center (CNCC). Revamped to implement a broad range of environmental features and meet best practice standards, today it boasts a plenary hall for up to 5,700 delegates, a ballroom for 4,200 people, an auditorium for up to 350 delegates, more than 247,000 square feet of convention space and 430,000 square feet of exhibition space within a capacious, 2.9 million-square-foot facility—all of which make it the largest of its kind in Asia.
The center’s first full year of operation welcomed more than 700,000 visitors to more than 600 events, including 14 international exhibitions and 54 international conferences. One event now hosted at CNCC is especially apt, replacing broadcasts on new Olympic records with those on China’s meeting and event industry. The China Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition (CIBTM), a calendar highlight, is the torch bearer for bringing Beijing and China’s meeting industry to a global audience; the 2011 event, the sixth since its 2005 launch, was the biggest to date. Almost 400 exhibitors and more than 300 hosted buyers equaled a 20 percent increase for each on 2010 figures, the 7,000 pre-scheduled appointments also a sharp rise on 2010, statistics that reflect a signal of intent for Beijing’s future role in the industry, one that is clearly aiming for a gold medal and nothing less.
“We will strive to make CIBTM the top event for the MICE industry in the Asia-Pacific region within five years,” Sun Weijia said. “It is important to remember that Beijing has unique advantages for MICE resources: transport, infrastructure and education are all in place for the acceleration of the MICE industry. Beijing also has 778 star-rated hotels, more than any other city in the world, amounting to 223,000 beds and with all the major hotel chains present.”
These unique advantages are constantly being increased and improved. The city is in the process of building a new airport, Beijing Daxing International, set to become the world’s busiest when completed in 2015, by which time the underground system will have grown from 205 miles to 279 miles, two new lines being added annually. New hotels are appearing seemingly weekly, accelerating toward the quarter-million bed mark. In addition to the vast CNCC complex, there are several more large-scale facilities throughout the city, including the 828,000-square-foot Beijing International Convention Center, the China World Trade Center with its recently opened China World Summit Wing and, more recently, the New China International Exhibition Center, a 1.07 million-square-foot facility with exhibition space, a shopping mall, hotels and event space. And the supply pipeline promises much more to come.
“Facilities will be improved further,” Sun Weijia said. “There will be an even bigger exhibition center to host major exhibitions. We have the CNCC and two other major exhibition centers, but the space is just not enough.”
CIBTM 2011 responded to industry demands by focusing on education as a pillar of its sustainable growth, with a popular three-day program including SITE and ICCA events.
“It is shown in the thirst for knowledge that accreditation has become an important issue,” said Jeffrey Xu, CIBTM project manager.
He adds that the event’s accredited sessions and education focus are part of a much broader initiative.
“Education, training and certification are priorities for us and we have plans to work with the colleges and universities offering tourism, travel and leisure,” Sun Weijia said. “We want to align certification with international standards, so, for bidding, clients will know they can make use of global standards using the same benchmarks.
“MICE is part of the education system and programs, and there is specialization in MICE management,” he continued. “From the university side, they are excited to work with us for support, not only financially. They are always keen to adapt the program to the reality of the industry. With the development in Beijing, the demand for talent is there.”
While these broad education initiatives will be needed to meet the high demands of a startling scale of development, the speed with which CIBTM and Beijing are aiming to become Asia’s top event and leading international destination respectively is also posing several pertinent challenges.
“I call these the ‘Great Walls’ of China, and they cover politics, mentality, language barriers, education, global awareness and other issues,” said Daniel Tschudy, a global tourism and meeting industry specialist on China. “The question is on which side of the walls you stand…[and] how to overcome them.
“Last year, China had 1.61 billion domestic trips operated by 12,000 domestic travel agents and hosted by some 300,000 hotels and guest houses,” Tschudy continued. “These figures are huge and also squeeze every international aspect way down the line; growth of tourism and the still-young meeting industry is based mostly on domestic needs. At the same time, outbound tourism in 2010 grew to 56 million, and analysts see the 100-million mark being reached before 2020. China’s future is not based on Western needs, but on their own. On the saying, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them,’ this will mean doing business—in their way.”
In Beijing itself, domestic visitor numbers in 2010 recorded in excess of a staggering 180 million, far exceeding the nearest global competitor for tourism destination by volume.
“There is a huge domestic demand, and the international event is only a small part of business,” Sun Weijia said. “Beijing is a special place in China, because it’s the capital city, saw the Olympic Games, its history and its culture. It is the No. 1 destination.”
Acknowledging the domestic impact on the Chinese market and that international event presence is at the seedling stage, Reed Travel Exhibitions (RTE), organizers of CIBTM, have been keen to get an early foothold in Beijing to address some of the market’s challenges and idiosyncrasies in order to better understand how to unlock its international meeting potential.
Despite the recognized extent of domestic demand against the efforts required for an international market that will remain a minority of total meetings business, China and Beijing’s unequivocal commitment is to set itself on an international platform, with CIBTM supported by BTD strategies pivotal to achieving this.
“There are three strands to the BTD MICE industry strategy, one of which is promotion policies,” Sun Weijia said. “Alongside the incentive and preferential policies to encourage development of the local MICE industry, we are also encouraging international associations and companies to be installed in Beijing and to work from the city.”
One vital tool for being able to propel the international MICE industry forward in a city as large and complex as Beijing has been lacking—a CVB. An industry discussion topic for some time already, it now appears to have been taken to the next stage.
“By the end of the year, the policy will be done and the CVB will be set up,” Sun Weijia said. “We will establish it with a group of people there to assist professional companies bringing events to Beijing. It will come under Beijing Tourism Organization management with a specific MICE department.”
More than four years since the Olympics brought the world to Beijing and Beijing to the world, all the pieces have now been put in place for the world to return for new events in the city. BTD Organizers at the New Year’s Eve light and laser show could reflect on a successful year and sit back to enjoy another stunning event, one that had overcome its own set of challenges.
“Beaming images on the curved surfaces of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (the Temple of Heaven centerpiece) wasn’t easy,” said Ren Jianghao, meeting and incentive director of BTD. “It took more careful calibration than if we were working on flat surfaces. But we pulled it off.”
For the development of CIBTM and Beijing’s meeting industry, there will be curved surfaces ahead that will also need calibration to make them more workable. Faced with a set of major challenges, Beijing has already shown the world what it can do—the outcome, once again, promises to be something utterly spectacular. One+
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One+ June 2012,