Cultural differences: Training the next generation

19th Dec, 2016
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Understanding cultural differences and ensuring effective communication between local and international organisers is just the starting point. Managing professional training in a changing world of congress design comes next and there is a challenge worldwide to adjust training modules to meet these changes. Asian Convention Bureaux have been bringing international training to their local trade in various ways and creatively work with global industry organisations on Asian solutions. Jenny Salsbury reports

Active for many years Thailand’s Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) has developed interesting initiatives. Vichaya Soonthornsaratoon Director of the Conventions Team advised on the MoU initiative with more than 40 universities in Thailand to involve their students in the MICE industry:“We actively encourage international organisers to use these students as volunteers – they can work on local versions of websites, provide entertainment and support on site at the congress itself. It’s a great system, the kids get the experience and the organisers have the enthusiastic support at a value for money price with TCEB acting as facilitator.”

Regional tradeshow IT&CM held annually in Bangkok has proved a catalyst for regional networking and TCEB now joins with IAPCO, UFI and MPI to run Asian oriented modules of their programmes for attendees from all across Asia including China, Korea, Malaysia and the Thai trade. In Japan, TCEB has set up agreements to share this training with regional convention bureaux including Osaka, Sapporo and Fukuoka.

Jeannie Lim, Executive Director, Convention, Meetings and Incentive Travel of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) points out: “Many local associations lack full-time staff and are supported by passionate volunteers who may have differing levels of knowledge and skills necessary to manage association conferences. In this case the local CVB’s, PCO’s and AMC’s are a valuable resource able to provide support for hosting international congresses. With evolving industry needs today, ensuring that local industry members are well equipped to cater to the demands for successful and engaging events is crucial.” STB has provided an Asian regional base for North American meeting planning organisation PCMA to begin to offer their style of knowledge sharing.

Imaginative regional approach
This imaginative regional approach has positively developed the operational skills and the scene is set for the next stage of the changing world of the actual congress design.

Turning the conversation to training Jason Yeh of Taiwan based GIS states the prime need for PCO’s in the region is to “teach their staff how to find the right speakers, speech content and to design a meeting format in order to increase interactive communication” crucially adding “None of the above was required in the past.”

IAPCO has worked for many years in the region with a high level of CVB engagement in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Macau, Korea and Indonesia originally providing bespoke training for the local specialist trade, more recently bringing their “EDGE” seminar series to the region. Most recently a completely tailored Edge Seminar was run in Suzhou, China 4-6 July then in Seoul 17-19 November, 2016, while Kuala Lumpur is slated for 18-20 September, 2017.

Commenting on challenges of tailor making bespoke training IAPCO President Jan Tonkin stated:“We are highly respectul of being in the Asian space and the more feedback we get will help us fine tune the programme, PCO’s are busy so these courses are shorter and about total immersion.” She feels gradual mentoring over time works well together with exchanges through relationship networks like the WPCOA.

Summing up the totally unexpected Suzhou experience Sarah Storie-Pugh of IAPCO Headquarters stated:“In today’s world of engagement, IAPCO EDGE seminars are full of interaction, exchange and participant involvement. It was therefore with some slight trepidation, recognising the culture and reticence of many participants from Asia, and specifically China, to stand up and express themselves and be involved in an interactive way, that we approached the seminar in Suzhou with a lively programme. We need not have had any concerns! The participants were totally involved, from the icebreakers to the team quizzes, from the round table deep dive discussions to the open forum Q&A! It was a refreshing experience to see how knowledgeable the participants were about the requirements to host international meetings.” A truly significant attitude shift in the China industry!

Points of difference
Accepted points of difference are below but real change was in open discussion of them from all points of view with the main organisational logistical points“hungrily taken on board!” With such success it is not surprising a second seminar is planned at intermediary level for April 2017.

• Contractual negotiations
• Budget transparency
• Visas
• Timeframes of working
• Governmental involvement
• Restrictions imposed upon organisers

The 56 attendees consisted of 66% PCOs and 34% other sectors including Venues, CVBs and Associations. Bidding, Finance and Framework were the most popular topics.

It’s more than logistics that makes a truly successful event, strategic consultancy is the next level of expertise required and these form the basic content in various levels of training offered by the industry bodies.

These need to be overlaid with people skills.“People skills are absolutely vital to produce the perception of a higher level of good service so other training is required around people management” comments Phillipa Seeto. It is very much about having the right attitude with some international exposure echo Jason Yeh, Kitty Wong, K&A and Marcel Ewals, MCI.

“The ultimate skillset is the ability to operate effectively in a multi-cultural environment, IAPCO and ICCA could play a pivotal role in exchange programmes” suggests Marcel, while Jason adds:“An online education platform for the PCO companies would allow more young talent to access the pool of knowledge.”

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