How do you feel the Brexit vote will affect the meetings industry?
I really thought the UK population would vote remain. To think about the EU without the UK is troubling. Saying that, the UK has always been a strong destination for meetings and will continue to be so. I think UK companies and EU companies will still travel between different European countries for meetings.
How important is the C&I market to your business? Has it grown in the past year?
It represents 25% of our business overall, compared to around 22.5% of our business last year - so it’s grown slightly. It’s probably our most important market and we really believe we’re specialists in the luxury group market.
What’s different about this year’s Global Meetings Exchange?
The different between this year and last year is that in 2015 we went to a destination that everyone knew - Monte Carlo. It's a great destination and everyone knows it’s a fantastic place, so we weren’t really introducing anything new. This time we’ve brought people to a new place. I asked the delegates if anyone had ever been to Ajman and only around 10% of the room had even heard of it. Only around 2% of people have actually been here. I love that we’ve done this because it was really a bit of a risk - everyone has told me they love the destination. Everyone has been to Dubai, but Ajman is a bit quirky, different and 'up and coming'.
Initially the event was due to be held in Istanbul, but cancelled due to the concerns of the some delegates. Do you feel Turkey will recover as a destination?
We were disappointed to move this event because we believe in Turkey. We’re heavily invested in the region with lots of great hotels there. We’re big believers in Turkey. Whenever things happen like this you get a big drop off, but when things settle down you get more demand. Long-term we expect Turkey to do well, but we felt for now it wasn’t the right decision to hold the event there. In terms of UK and European business, we’ve seen a drop in meetings. But it remains a popular destination with the Middle East market, particularly for the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Cairo is also doing well at the moment. Not so much with the UK market like it used to be, but we do see people coming from Lebanon, Saudi and the UAE.
What are the strongest markets for you in 2016?
Asia is quite strong. Shanghai is very popular for meetings and incentives at the moment. We’re also seeing a lot of demand for North America - it’s a very strong market for the UK. Overall, our fastest-growing markets (in terms of hotels) are the Middle East and China. I expect when next year there’ll be more growth.
What are the key trends in the C&I market for 2016?
Firstly there’s a high level of personalisation, especially in the luxury market. The second thing we’re seeing is a real mix of business and leisure travel. There’s been a rise in the number of delegates who have their partner come and meet them during the trip. The interest in unique activities has increased, as has the focus on food. People don’t want overly heavy meals - they want lighter, cleaner, fresher options.
For more breaking news, in-depth features and case studies, sign up to C&IT Magazine's daily Newstracker here