China is a very distant destination for Latin Americans. As a child I remember a common saying that when you dug a deep hole in the ground if you kept digging you’d reach China on the other side of the world. Because of the Site International Conference, I have had the incredible honor to travel to Beijing for the second time in 18 months and I can confirm that it is an extraordinary country of sharp contrasts.
Beijing was the gracious host of the Site International Conference 2012 and this extraordinary city welcomed Conference delegates with much enthusiasm. I, along with other industry leaders, was privileged to be greeted at the Municipal Residence by the Mayor of Beijing and a delegation of the city’s senior officials. Despite language differences, and with help of a translator, this protocol allowed us to understand how important it was for Beijing to have been chosen to host the Site International Conference 2012. Because of their enthusiasm, dedication, commitment and results my sincerest congratulations and thanks to those who participated in the Conference host committee. Mission accomplished by far!!
We enjoyed great weather all week. September is the end of summer in the northern hemisphere and in Beijing we experiences highs of 25 Centigrade and nights cooled to 15 Centigrade. The only night where weather was cooler was at the Great Wall of China where CIBTM invited hosted buyers and exhibitors to a buffet and outdoor show. The next morning, we again visited the Great Wall with Site Chapter leaders. Climbing the Great Wall was by far the toughest physical challenge of the week. The section that we climbed is very steep, and it is not easy to go up or down in the middle of the human tide that comes and goes. In China today, there is much internal tourism and Beijing is one of the most visited places in the country.
A highlight of the Conference was the opening night in the Forbidden City of Taimaio, where some Board colleagues dressed up as emperors of a dynasty that reigned 500 years ago!
The Conference education kicked off with a presentation by renowned American journalist, Peter Greenberg, who led a brainstorming discussion about tourism accompanied by Roger Dow, President of the US Travel Association and George Lipman, President of the International Council of Tourism Partners.
Another notable educational session was the presentation coordinated by Fay Beauchine, president of Business Loyalty of AIMIA, introducing Michele Samoulides, responsible for Incentive and recognition global campaigns at Microsoft who shared examples of how the company creates employee loyalty worldwide through the use of incentive travel. There were also interesting presentations on the potential of China as a mecca for incentives and the new model of hybrid events that combine technology and physical participation.
One afternoon, the 400 attendees could choose from various tour options. I chose the Summer Palace with a tour through a beautiful park, a typical Chinese sailing ship with live music and a cocktail in a boutique hotel, the Aman Resort, which was nestled between historic buildings.
The final night Conference delegates were treated to a Gala evening at the Water Cube, the stadium that was used for swimming competitions at the 2008 Olympic Games. During the evening Site presented its annual awards to the most outstanding Chapters. Mexico was awarded the Chapter Excellence Award in the leadership category, and its President, Julia Trejo, was recognized as the Site member of the year. The Chapter of the Year was awarded to Canada, and the Kevin Forde Spirit Award was given to Pablo Sismanian, MICE tourism coordinator at Inprotur in Argentina. It was a huge joy to see so many Latin Americans on stage to receive deserved recognition for their contribution to the industry.
The last day, I reserved for my shopping experience in Beijing. You can’t miss this as its great therapy after a week full of stress - going to the Pearl Market or the Silk Market, and experiencing “the art of bargaining” in Chinese. Any item for sale must be negotiated with its seller. Discussions and body gestures can leave everyone exhausted, but in the search for the best price, everything is valid and fun.
Because of the long trip to China and the time difference (11 hours) jet lag is no minor issue. It has been difficult to return to a normal routine. Could it be because I keep reliving all the excitement that I experienced in Beijing in such a short time; or perhaps because I am anticipating what new adventures the 2013 Site Events Agenda will offer?
I am looking forward to 2013 as in March Site will host the Site EMEA Forum in Antwerp, Belgium, and in December we will celebrate our 40th anniversary year at the Site Global Conference in Orlando, Florida. We are also planning other exciting Site events in Latin America and the Caribbean that will soon be announced.
I hope to see many more of you participating in Site events in 2013. Site is a special place to grow professionally, develop productive business relationships and live unique and unforgettable moments, such as the experience in Beijing.
Alejandro Verzoub, Site President 2012 & President AV Business & Communication, Buenos Aires, Argentina