THE 25th annual Asia-Pacific Incentives and Meetings Expo (AIME) continued the show’s long tradition of showcasing the latest innovations for the business events sector. One of the key enhancements this year was a ‘Konduko’ delegate tracking system, which used NFC technology to allow attendees to instantly exchange details with one another. Exhibitors from across the globe once again took part, with around 400 hosted buyers along with hundreds more attendees joining in a packed appointment and social schedule. As always Melbourne was an intrinsic part of the program, with the Victorian capital’s creative scene highlighted in the opening night cocktail party which took place at Carousel in the Albert Park precinct.

AIME is undergoing an evolution, with the show’s owner, the Melbourne Convention Bureau, opening tenders earlier this year to manage the show in 2019 and 2020. The incumbent, long-time organiser Reed Travel Exhibitions, has confirmed it will not submit a bid, leaving the industry curious to see who will take over. Reed’s IBTM Global Events Portfolio director Kerry Prince told travelBulletin the organisation had made a strategic decision to focus on shows it owns 100%, such as the World Travel Market and International Luxury Travel Market portfolios. For its part, Melbourne Convention Bureau says it’s had strong interest from a range of organisations wanting to run the show going forward — and in the meantime Reed is firmly committed to running another excellent show for its final iteration in charge next year.

As well as the future of AIME, the larger question of the future of business meetings was a key focus at this year’s expo, with Melbourne Convention Bureau ceo Karen Bolinger releasing a new report from McCrindle Research which looks at how the rapid rise of technology is impacting the sector. “We felt it was really important to understand the role conferences would play in the next five years,” she said. And the findings are good news, with the core desire of people to meet face to face undampened by the increasing proliferation of social networking, VOIP and video communications. “It is human nature to like to be part of a tribe or community,” Bolinger said.

However, a key trend underlined by the McCrindle report was time, with the study predicting the likelihood that conferences and other events are likely to become shorter in duration in the future. Technology will increasingly facilitate customisation of the delegate experience, so those in attendance can achieve what they need to in a briefer space of time. A common sentiment expressed by people in the study was “I am time poor, so this had better be worth my time”. And while technology isn’t impacting the innate desire for face-to-face meetings, it is certainly going to become an increasingly important part of any conference or exhibition, as tech-savvy Generation Z — or so-called “screenagers” — become a larger proportion of the global workforce.

Venues, in turn, will also need to adapt to facilitate the increasingly interactive and technological meetings of the future. But as the sector continues to evolve it is clear that the future of business events is bright — and so is their contribution to the Australian economy, with Tourism Australia’s Penny Lion also highlighting the benefits that inbound events have, with delegates spending much more per head than leisure tourists, and often also deciding to return for a holiday in the future.

Business events are also key for Melbourne, which has for many years had a strong focus on attracting large conferences and other meetings. Despite the recent opening of Sydney’s new International Convention Centre, the order book for the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) is still very full, according to MCEC ceo Peter King. “There’s plenty of business to go around,” he said — while noting that the current $200 million expansion of MCEC will mean Melbourne continues to offer Australia’s largest convention centre.