International association congresses that have matured in terms of design and content often find it a challenge to replicate the template successfully in Asia.
Too often, the realisation dawns on conference organisers that one size does not fit all, even if there is provision for adjustments. Asia is a different breed of tiger that requires taming in ways that recognise the socio-cultural realities that impact on all economic activity. Varying expectations are often not enough to design an event that is quintessentially Asian and therefore seamlessly accepted. Getting things done in Asia according to international expectations often loses something in translation. Being aware of these gaps is a first step to comprehending the nuances, resolving misunderstandings and increasing efficacy.
Matched with fast developing economies, the Asia Pacific region has become an attractive marketplace for associations to enhance membership by opening up new trading connections, bringing cutting-edge science to developing countries and also exploring research opportunities that have sprung up in medical, science and technology fields specific to the region.
How do established organisations bring their events into Asia that have become set in style with procedures that are probably more linked to the way things are done in Europe or North America? One way organisations have found to do this is to draw up templates of requirements to keep the style and nature of the established congress and also to ensure that tried and tested ways of making money from the event are followed.
The balance of decision-making between the local organisers and the international headquarters is critical. So is the pricing that embraces the Asian need to convey respect for favours and assistance received during the development of the event and the firm belief that a low rate attracts more delegates.
However, the template style has its pros and cons. The advantage is that it does drive a higher quality of programme which will attract global participants. However, it tends to diminish the exposure of local speakers unless there is smart management.
There is an underestimate of the benefit of investing in local expertise via its members and suppliers when this type of template is applied – every destination is not the same. An Asian client typically feels that the PCO team is understaffed if they only see one person, even though there may be many specialist divisions in the organisation working on the project behind the scenes. To satisfy this perception, most Asian PCOs work with a key project co-ordinator and a relatively large team of supporting help who have little decision-making capacity. Asian perceptions are integral to the successful delivery of an event as they must satisfy sensibilities, not just those making business sense but also those that are culturally amenable. The changing landscape of relationship building and meetings design mindset in Asia needs to be traversed very carefully by international associations as well as other large conference organisers.
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