In around a month's time, the 6th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation will take place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), which for a few days will become a centre of global attention. The weighty matters under discussion will make international headlines, but for the staff of the HKCEC, it will mean the culmination of months of meticulous planning and preparation. "With all the extra security arrangements, it also means that, for the next few weeks, it will be one of the safest places in the world to work," says event manager Carol Tam.
In her current role, Ms Tam is used to dealing with the diverse requirements of visitors and clients from around the world. "When I first joined the HKCEC, I was responsible for putting together smaller events," she recalls. "I'm very happy now that I have the opportunity to put together mega events like international conferences and multi-hall exhibitions."
After graduating from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University with a bachelor's degree in tourism management, she initially worked for a different company, setting up business meetings and conferences. However, she jumped at the chance to join the HKCEC as an event coordinator around five years ago. She knew that a job with one of the world's top conference and exhibition venues would put her to the test, but felt confident about meeting the challenges the role presented.
You are always working on something new and there is never any possibility of getting bored
"The job involves managing the venue and is like that of a mediator, or a bridge between clients and the HKCEC," she explains. "Once a contract is signed, we take over from our sales teams and start discussions with clients about the details of what they want. We follow through the entire process right up until the end of the event." The whole process from planning to implementation and follow-up can vary considerably depending on the clients and the type of event. In some cases, negotiations and preliminary planning are taking place 12 to 18 months in advance. "The first step for our team is to explain our infrastructure, facilities and capabilities for clients," Ms Tam says. "We focus on the service aspects, dealing with technical questions and making sure that everything will run smoothly."
These duties make it essential to maintain close contact with other internal departments and to have excellent interpersonal skills. "We may have disagreements, but they are never very serious, because we all realise that the key to successful event management is teamwork," she says.
For Ms Tam, the most interesting part of the job is its endless variety. She is actively encouraged to try out creative ideas and given a free hand to implement new initiatives. In her view, no other role would offer as many challenges or as much excitement. "We also handle concerts, film premieres and carnivals, so you are always working on something new and there is never any possibility of getting bored," she says.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the job requires long and irregular working hours. When an exhibition is on, Ms Tam and her team must be on site and available, which can mean working some days from six in the morning until midnight. "Events require a different degree of involvement, but you must know how to delegate because you can't possibly do everything and monitor every step yourself," she says. However, she points out that there is generally sufficient time between major events to recharge one's batteries.
With its combination of trade shows, conferences and public events, the HKCEC has something on the go all the time. This makes multi-tasking an important skill. For example, Ms Tam explains that a leather goods show might take two days moving in and three days in exhibition. During those five days, she might also be working on the long-range planning of a future event, handling logistics issues for the next week's trade show, and following up on an event which had taken place the previous month. "I handle approximately 10 to 15 events each month. We manage things by projects and often work at weekends, particularly for public shows such as book fairs and concerts," she explains.
Ms Tam advises those interested in joining the sector to be sure they are good at responding to challenges and that they are energetic and outgoing. "In this profession, we start every new project from scratch, but know that clients expect flawless event management and have faith in our abilities to achieve that. The reward and job satisfaction comes from managing ever bigger events and meeting the high standards we set ourselves."
The HKCEC already works with many mainland-based clients and Ms Tam believes that for Putonghua speakers there are increasing opportunities to work across the border. "Communication is of utmost importance in this profession because every tiny detail can play a significant part," she says. A growing number of exhibition centres and hotels are hosting major events in China, but the staff involved need to know the relevant regulations and understand the local ways of doing things. "If you cope with all of that, you may just as well give it a go," she says.