Director of Worldwide Convention Specialists, Anette Palm expands on why we should not neglect the importance of relationships in an increasingly competitive world.

 Interviewed by Rochelle Uechtritz 

“Professionalism, pride, passion and outstanding presentation with an innovative approach is how I would sum up AEG Convention Centres and their teams.” Anette Palm, Director, Worldwide Convention Specialists

Tell us about your company, Worldwide Convention Specialists based in Germany.

Worldwide Convention Specialists provide support to convention centres and convention bureaux throughout the world, by lead generation and representation within the International, European and Asia Pacific association meetings market place.

“Over the past 12 years, we have established more than 8,000 highly qualified contacts, many of whom organise more than 2-3 events with a worldwide, Asia Pacific or European rotation.”

Our 10 team members are strategically positioned around the world to source quality information by identifying the meeting’s history, the key criteria required for future venue consideration.

Basically, we undertake extensive research to identify prospective association convention leads to determine prospective business opportunities for our clients.

Several of our clients have been with us from the start. Nurturing these relationships remains our top priority.

Share your background within the convention industry

I was born in Germany and emigrated to Australia with my parents when I was young. I consider myself both German and Australian, which makes it a little difficult when both countries compete against each other, such as the FIFA World Cup!

My career spans all facets of hospitality including hotels, conventions centres as well as a partner in Canberra based conference management company, Australian Convention Travel Services (ACTS), for more than a decade, before relocating back to Germany in early 2000.

“As a result of my experience as a conference organiser in Australia, I was approached by the AEG managed Cairns Convention Centre to assist with qualifying international associations based in Europe. There was a definite gap in the market and thus Worldwide Convention Specialists was born.”

You often hear that the convention and meetings industry is based on relationships, what do relationships mean to you?

Relationships are what our business is all about. First with our own clients, namely Convention Centres and Convention Bureaux, and second, with the prospective associations.

It is vital in our industry that we develop and maintain strong, professional relationships with the decision makers and influencers of International Associations, Association Management Companies as well as Conference and Event Management companies. Essentially, that is the key to providing the absolute best business connections for both our clients and the associations.

“Over the past 12 years, many association decision makers have become close friends. It is built on mutual respect, trust, honesty and friendship. That is what makes our industry so dynamic. It is these long-term bonds created through successful business relationships.”

Because of this, decision makers will pick up the phone when you call, they will answer emails and provide the information we require. It is all about mutual respect and sharing best business practices.

“Our history shows that associations primarily book events with destinations or venues with whom they have built a mutually beneficial business relationship.”

Also, I am thrilled when Association clients call requesting suggestions for future venue locations. They may need advice on 1st or 2nd tier cities or destinations or venues they have not used before. It is always beneficial to share knowledge and experiences with people you know and trust to give an honest answer.

Share one of your experiences where relationships resulted in business opportunities.

In 2007, we started talking with the International AIDS Society (IAS) and in 2010, we were successful in securing the 2013 International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention Conference for the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) and Malaysia with more than 6,000 participants.

IAS hold significant world congresses, such as, the International AIDS Conference attracting more than 15,000 participants and the IAS Conference on HIV Science which attracts about 6,000 participants.

Based on our discussions, the IAS team really wanted to hold their 2013 congress in India. At that time, India did not have a venue large enough to hold the event, so through my contacts, I organised a meeting in their Geneva office to present the capabilities of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre and the city as an option for 2013.

IAS had not even considered Malaysia or Kuala Lumpur prior to my visit. I knew the history and requirements of the conference and provided a comprehensive overview on why the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre was the ideal venue and Kuala Lumpur had the capacity and capability to meet their extensive demands.”

There were many hurdles to overcome to win the business, however with the strong relationship forged, we worked through those and Kuala Lumpur and the KLCC was chosen as the host city and venue.

I use this example to my team and clients to demonstrate it’s all about knowing your product and the client’s needs. If I had not approached IAS directly, Kuala Lumpur may have never been considered.

Working with AEG Convention Centres for over two decades, what do you believe sets them apart?

AEG Convention Centres stand out by providing the highest standards in professionalism and pride in everything they do. Not only is it the quality and presentation of the venues, it’s the highest standards in catering, equipment, technology and service.  Everything about an AEG managed venue is world-class.

AEG Convention Centres are renowned for their innovative forward-thinking initiatives that become global industry benchmarks.”

As a conference organiser, from the moment you engage with an AEG Convention Centre, the staff are professional, friendly and approachable. However, it’s the continual attention to detail in every area of the operation that gives you immediate confidence and comfort that you are in good hands.

AEG Convention Centres are always seeking innovative solutions to enhance the delegate experience.  Whether it’s about sustainability, operations or cost saving benefits for both the client and the venue, they are continually adjusting to meet market demands and stay updated with the latest trends.  This does not go unnoticed by potential clients.

“In a nutshell, I have never had a client that has had a bad experience at an AEG Convention Centre. They deliver what they promise.”

During your days as a Professional Conference Organiser, you were invited as an Advisory Board Member for AEG managed Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, what was the benefit to be involved?

It was an honour to be invited onto the inaugural Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre Advisory Board.

“It certainly was an innovative concept ahead of its time and lead the path as a benchmark for other venues to follow.”

The Board comprised of recognised conference organisers from each state in Australia and was the first of its kind. Meetings were held with the BCEC’s General Manager, Bob O’Keefe and various executives across all areas of the operation including catering, operations, sales, audio visual and the like.

“As conference organisers, the benefits were instigating a number of improvements that were beneficial to both the venue and the clients. It was not a ‘talk fest’. We got to know the venue and its operations very well and it certainly created a strong partnership amongst the whole team.”

The other tangible benefit was the alliance that was formed amongst the conference organisers ourselves. Even today, many of the Advisory Board Members and BCEC team remain in regular contact.

Tradeshows and industry events are a critical path to building relationships, share your importance of these events?

When representing large-scale convention centres and bureaux, it is essential to be ‘in-market’ on a regular basis. Meeting with clients face-to-face strengthens your own network, something an email can’t do.

Given not all high-profile associations attend every tradeshow, it is important to have continuity of the teams meeting these decision makers.

“Attending a trade show is only one part of the process, follow up and regular contact is paramount for success.”

As our business is such a long-term affair, my advice is to introduce new team members along the way, ensuring there is the continuity of ‘faces’ to the major buyers and an ongoing building of the relationship. By following this rule, I can almost guarantee you will secure business and make friends for life.

What changes have you seen in the convention industry over the past decade?

The greatest shift is an increase in the number of tradeshows and a decrease of buyer attendance for large-scale conventions.

In today’s fast paced world, the decision makers with the most influence are becoming very selective in which tradeshows they attend. They may only attend a tradeshow every second year, or when they need to source new destinations or venues. Many will only visit for one day, making it harder to secure advance appointments.

“In addition, the competition has trebled. There are more competitive destinations, there are more competitive venues, there are more regions, more countries and more cities actively pursuing lucrative convention business, everyone has become even more professional, however it appears that larger-scale association meetings are not growing at the same pace.”

Generally, I believe it takes three times as long to secure appointments and attendance at our client evening events than ever before.

Associations are also looking at new ways to generate more revenue such as cutting staffing hours and other efficiencies. In turn, this is reducing their ability to attend industry events.

What challenges do you see the convention industry faces today?

One of the greatest challenges is the ability to retain qualified and well-trained staff for extended periods. It seems that the art of building relationships and enhancing your network is being eroded. There is much more movement of key staff within the convention industry than ever before.

With competition sky-rocketing, I believe that relationships and personal networks are even more valuable than ever.  Hopefully the newcomers in our industry continue to value these ideals as much as we do.

END

For more information, image requests or media interviews, please connect with: 

Rochelle Uechtritz, Director, International Market Development AEG Convention Centres

P + 61 400 253 392

E ruechtritz@aegworldwide.com

13th September 2017