by Esther Faith Lew | October 01, 2015

We need to stop looking at the symptoms and identify the source of the problem," says Oscar Cerezales, COO of MCI Group Asia Pacific as he zooms right into the heart of the matter. "There is no point in flocking like sheep to the same stress points and harping on the same micro issues that defeat progress in the bigger context."

 The market is fragmenting, consolidating and evolving in business models. With this shifting of tectonic plates, the meetings landscape drastically changes, and Oscar emphasises the need for meeting planners to realise they will not survive - if they don't adapt and evolve.

"Today, there may be thousands of meeting planners, but companies are consolidating and hiring big agencies and market niche-driven agencies. Those planners that are wedged in the middle will be the ones suffering if they don't relook their business models and approach.

They have to move beyond the tactical and transactional and not harp on reduced budgets and management fees. These topics are not game changers and are not important in the overall scheme of things," he asserts.

Oscar doesn't mince his words, telling it point blank with a quiet confidence that belies a big personality on stage. This self-confessed introvert shared that he would be much more comfortable on stage giving a lecture or speech than mingling with a cocktail in hand at a reception.

Intent and purpose are the twin rockets that propel him in his daily mission of developing MCI Group Asia Pacific's presence. With 15 offices to oversee, Oscar orchestrates a manoeuvre that sees the company growing organically, but also via acquisitions and joint ventures as well as fine-tuning services that offer value- added benefits for clients, of which digital services are a key component.

"Looking forward, we want to have a good portion of our revenue come from services that we do not have today. Digital technology will be the motivator and I expect our talents will come up with creative solutions to incorporate that into our suite of services," Oscar elaborates.

He walks the talk in whichever topic he addresses, with practical experience to back up his views. An active board member of the Professional Convention Management Association, Oscar has over 20 years' experience in the meetings industry, having started with Spanish event organiser Grupo Pacifico before joining Barcelona International Convention Centre. Since then, he has not looked back, honing his skills and knowledge with MCI Group in various international postings since 2007.

Coming from a humble family background of farmers in a small village in Spain, this go-getter pushes the boundaries in whatever he sets out to achieve, and that includes personal goals as well. His passion for living intensely sees him pounding the terrain in triathlons or bonding with his family when he is not busy pushing strategies in the corporate arena. "Everything I do,I do it in hopes of leaving a legacy, whether it is to fulfil MCI Group's goals or my family's dreams. Ultimately, the good things in life are the things that you cannot buy. I want to be that influencer who empowers and instigates positive change and development," Oscar shares.

With this vision and insight, Oscar talks to M&C Asia about the game changers that will shape the meetings industry in the near future.

Is the concept of meetings being redefined and in what way?
When you talk about meetings, you are not just talking about meetings. You are actually talking about your communities and how to engage them. And that is becoming difficult as the market fragments. There is an explosive increase in the number of events being held, but they are getting smaller and they are turning into hybrids with virtual online platforms. How does that impact tourism boards and CVBs? For example, IT or FMCG companies organise many events and as the number increases, they are looking at market-driven events to engage specific communities such as YouTube fans. Ultimately, that is the ROI. To engage the entire spectrum of their market audience. How would a CVB then attract 500 of such hybrid events as compared to 100 conferences and exhibitions? 

How do you define success in this new meetings context?
I don't just want to meet you once when you pay a visit to my booth at an exhibition. I want to talk to my customers over 365 days, not just one day. I want to increase my touch points and maximise my impact. In order for that to happen, we have to move beyond just that physical event and think about what it means to engage your communities. With technology as an enabler, this is becoming a reality.

What then are the challenges that stand in the way?
 Rather than refer to them as challenges, I prefer to reframe the perspective and call them game changers. Market fragmentation is one - which I talked about. The other is market consolidation. Vendors, agencies, suppliers, hotels, clients. They are all consolidating. There is a paradigm shift in mindsets and business models. For example, where there used to be 20 pharmaceutical companies for 75 percent of the market, there are now just a few for the same share.

There is also another important game changer - the Chief Marketing Officer. He is the one paying for the party. He decides everything and he has this message: I want to build up communities and fans around my company and my products and services so that they will spread the message nd be my brand ambassadors. They need these communities to be online via Facebook, Twitter, Istagram, etc, and offline via meetings, roadshows and conferences.

So how does this directive differ from past ones other than the fact that online platforms are now important?
What's different is in the budget. In the past, there were separate budgets. Now they have one budget for a coordinated and integrated marketing plan that includes above-the-line, below-the-line, off-line and on-line platforms. And they want to track every single dollar they spend and know exactly where it goes.

They also want to track their communities and know what they twittered, what they posted on Facebook or Linkedin, whether they visited their exhibition, what they bought, etc. With this market intelligence, they will become more efficient and effective in meeting end goals. Meeting planners have to pay attention to this because companies now have bigger marketing budgets, but they are spending more strategically. So there is a need to align mindsets and achieve goals in a seamless connection.

How should meeting planners get their game on for the future? 
  Looking at what I said earlier about game changers, meeting planners then need to look at the big picture and consider the environment that those game changers are operating within.

You have 1) multicultural diversity; 2) multigenerational interests and preferences; 3) microeconomic factors such as the devaluation of the dollar, the price of petrol, research and technology; 4) political stability.