Waikin Wong: A great time for meetings

Association meetings are returning strongly to Asia-Pacific, and so are ICCA’s efforts to scale up destination support and member engagement, says Waikin Wong, ICCA regional director Asia-Pacific

What is most exciting about Asia-Pacific’s meetings industry this year and going into the coming years?
Everyone is back to face-to-face meetings, and it is clear how competitive meetings industry players have become in the race to get back on track.

There is now a stronger focus on more purposeful meetings. There is also a shift from the past where organisations and associations had bigger budgets and it was easier to gain travel approval.

The intense competition for attendees means meetings have to be a lot more relevant to associations and their members. Meeting planners have to act more deliberately, and place more thought on why and how delegates meet. This raises the bar for everyone.

The travel disruption and absence of meetings have emphasised to governments that meetings are essential for economic and social advancements. Has this resulted in more welcomed tones when ICCA communicates with Asia-Pacific country/city leaders on the value of the meetings industry?
Insight from ICCA’s advocacy work shows that there has been little change post-lockdown. Most big city governments are already aware of the economic – and societal – importance international association meetings create.

For example, if a city pays for its oncology doctors to attend an overseas meeting, they will only upskill a limited number of oncology professionals. But if a city facilitates an oncology conference, it will encourage many field researchers and professionals to interact with the local oncology community and related sectors. The knowledge transfer is wider and better. A conference will also raise the city’s profile in the field of oncology, medicine, bio-research, and more, leading to improvements in local oncology practices, benefiting citizens and reducing health burdens on the government.

All this from just one association meeting.

City governments are aware that the meetings industry is a facilitator for many other industries­ ­making trade and knowledge exchange possible.

ICCA is in a very strong position but we must keep talking about how our industry drives other industries. Destinations move at a different pace when it comes to promoting and supporting international association meetings, so our advocacy work will remain relevant for a long time to come.

Is ICCA also scaling up efforts to support the meetings industry and advocate higher quality meetings across the region as this industry gains stronger awareness?
In Asia-Pacific, we are taking a ‘think global, act local’ approach. We work very closely with individual destinations to understand their needs, allowing us to provide the right training and connections as well as recommendations to help close any gaps.

ICCA Business Intelligence, our world-famous database, has been tracking international association meetings on rotation since 1972. ICCA Business Intelligence captures more than 220,000 meetings, 20,000 regularly occurring meeting series, and 11,500 associations.

Detailed research provides destination managers and venue operators an intelligent opening to a sales pitch. If a conversation was to start with informed suggestions, based on the association’s meeting trends, content focus and objectives, you will be in a much stronger negotiation position.

Members in Asia-Pacific have been able to use ICCA Business Intelligence to identify international associations that have potential for this region, and to change their mind. The database has extensive tools for business development and marketing, so members can also use it to engage with national associations, explore different sub-meetings, spot potential sponsors, or even corporate events. We will soon have some very exciting news to share about Governmental Meetings, so watch this space!

ICCA’s role is to provide the platforms and tools to make our members more efficient in attracting more business.

There is a lot of excitement around the coming ICCA Congress in Bangkok. Why do you think meetings professionals are reacting this way?
The 62nd Congress will be very different! Everybody will be a first-timer, a newcomer, and an equal participant. It will be a fully inclusive event.

By all levels I mean a CEO can join and contribute their rich knowledge and industry observations, while young professionals will have an equal voice in sharing their outlook and their ideas.

The format allows attendees to build their own congress experience and participate in daily Sharing Hubs where they will co-create content in areas of special interest to them. ICCA had identified 10 topics over the past few months, and discussions at congress will launch collaborations for many years to come. The Sharing Hubs will be hosted by expert Topic Champions who will draw out the best and most interesting outcomes.

The congress is aptly themed, It Starts With Us.

All sessions will be very interactive, and speakers will come from a more diverse background. I am delighted to say we will have a lot more Asia-Pacific speakers.

There is great excitement at the prospect of our industry coming to Asia-Pacific. Visitors can see for themselves the rapid economic, technological and social developments that have been taking place here.

IMF’s Regional Economic Outlook report in May 2023 highlights the strength of Asia-Pacific – growth is forecasted to accelerate to 4.6 per cent this year from 3.8 per cent last year, and will contribute to 70 per cent of global growth this year.

Asia-Pacific is valuable for international associations, as a region for membership growth, knowledge exchange and business inroads for members. Coming here and interacting with people from across Asia-Pacific also helps those outside the region to better understand how to operate and thrive in such a culturally-diverse landscape.

What other events can ICCA Asia-Pacific members look forward to after the congress this November?
The congress will likely lead to some spin-off local events in various Asia-Pacific cities. Besides these, ICCA works very closely with the various Asian chapters in supporting their intended industry events and engagements by providing relevant and innovative content ideas.

We also continue to focus on creating events that champion youth development, something ICCA is passionately committed to.