CIM spoke with to Sinead Yeo, regional director Asia at BESydney, about the organisation’s evolution in the Asian market as it marks its half a century milestone.
BESydney was early in identifying Asia as a top priority – how has that paid off? As the first Australian convention bureau to establish a presence in Asia and conducting business development work in China back in those days Pudong (Shanghai) in China was still largely flat land!
As a result of our early entry on the ground, we had built a strong understanding of the market and developed solid relationships with a network of partners and clients. We have a good understanding of the ecosystems and business cultures operating in different Asian markets, and as a result of all that, Sydney is well placed to pursue business in the region.
Sydney was the city to secure many of the key Chinese mega incentives back a decade ago – ranging from Amway China – which has returned to Sydney three times so far – Bayer Pharmaceutical China, AIA China, the early incentives from the insurance industry, Shanghai Roche Pharmaceutical and Infinitus.
And, we continue to reap the benefits with a record-breaking $120m secured from the Asian incentive market last year. Asian incentives now account for almost half of the business we secure every year and we’re seeing a broad spread across Asia with strong growth from India, Japan and Malaysia.
How important is it to have locally based representatives? We all know too well the importance of meeting face-to-face – it’s essential in order to build strong long-term relationships with our partners and clients in person. It makes good business sense.
In addition, being present on the ground you get to feel and breathe all that is going on in market – the latest trends, consumer interests and how the overall economy is doing. You get to your clients faster and can also better appreciate their concerns and what drives them.
How has the Asian market evolved? My team and I started in-market when many of the Chinese corporations were just starting to send their groups for incentives to Australia. They were new to us and to long-haul incentive travel.
Today, companies have evolved. There are many more new players in the market, incentive group sizes for successful companies have grown, but at the same time they are becoming more structured with different tiers introduced based on achievements. Clients are so much savvier than our competitors expect, especially about what support they can get from a destination and the return they want from their spend. Part of this is them seeking more unique experiences to ensure their delegates leave the city with fond memories and the motivation to perform better when they return home. The market has also seen the entry of more competitor destinations, so clients are now spoilt for choice.
How fractured is the Asian market and how do you tailor the Sydney proposition for each country? From country to country, the market is not that fractured. It’s only that way when you look at it through a regional lens. Each market has some slight differences in the level of travel maturity and preference for experiences.
For example, Singapore and Hong Kong are mature markets that know Sydney well and therefore incentive programs designed to entice them to Sydney essentially must include something new or very unique. For first timers or new markets, the iconic experiences are still important.
Are there perception challenges about Sydney? When you are the main gateway city to Australia, it’s natural for familiarity to breed complacency. However, my team sees this challenge as an opportunity. With a finger on the pulse, we work with local suppliers to seek out and present new ideas and stories to spark interest with our clients. Mature markets are looking for authentic, local experiences – they’ve seen the icons – so now it’s about connecting them to suppliers that can build experiences that are authentically Australian and uniquely Sydney-based.
The other perception challenge is that for people who do not know Sydney well enough, they think we are just another cosmopolitan city. We actually have so many unique and relaxing regional areas and experiences to indulge in – from the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley to Port Stephens. That’s part of my team’s job is to present these options.
What are the key factors that make Sydney a competitive destination? For one, it’s our strong infrastructure and capabilities – the variety of venues and of different sizes to suit diverse groups, abundant accommodation options in the city centre, a strong network of direct flights and an experienced local industry who understand and can service clientele from any market. The variety of authentic food choices is crucial if you want to attract this market and it also helps if you have different language speaking members of your team. Being so close to Asia, Sydney is lucky to have both.
In terms of the soft aspects, of course we can’t take for granted the icons – the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge – not many cities in the world can be placed on the world map so strongly and visually. Our beautiful blue sky, attractive coastline and beaches, and our fresh produce all add to the appeal.
Are the types of events and meetings coming to Sydney changing? In some sense yes, but it has more to do with the evolution of the markets and clients rather than us as a destination. As mentioned earlier, it has to do with the markets maturing and some clients growing and developing a more structured incentive program to maintain peak performance levels. There are opportunities in so many different Asian markets to seize.
How important are events (such as your latest 50th Anniversary Sydney Familiarisation farewell on Goat Island) in promoting Sydney? They are important because we need to be constantly refreshing our positioning and perception of Sydney in order to attract repeat visitation and convince our audience that Sydney always has something to offer.
Events such as these allow us to showcase some new and unique ideas, venues or experiences that could be incorporated into any incentive program. It also offers our clients and travel partners the opportunity to experience something different themselves – therefore they can then more easily deliver similar messages to potential clients when they return home.