Networking differently with APOT

July 04, 2018

APOT Founder Happy K had long been telling me ‘APOT is about networking differently’. OK, so I understood the networking bit, but just what was going to be so different?

The ultra long-haul flight (direct London to Perth) was something different for me for a start. There aren’t many industry events I’m intrigued enough about to take a 17-hour flight! And previewing the event schedule – golf, wine tasting, bush tucker, Australian-themed gala dinner alongside the educational day, the content of the event sounded different too.

I arrived a couple of days ahead of the opening to acclimatise to the time zone. The winter sun was shining on the city and the Pan Pacific Perth, event hotel was well located for a little exploring before a visit to Perth Inflight Catering (PIC) at the airport provided a few more insights into what was to come.

PIC md, Salim Hazife, and his team had been working tirelessly, as those on the ground, to help pull the event together (as they also prepared to launch a new Business class contract for Virgin Australia the same week). But it was only later, at the opening cocktail party, that I fully began to understand just how committed they were.

APOT ceo Jeremy Clark and Happy K welcomed delegates and explained the reasons we were in Perth. Salim’s father, Ismail Hazife – better known as Smiley – has attended and supported every APOT event to date. Happy explained: “When Smiley told me he wouldn’t be able to fly this year for medical reasons, I knew we’d have to come to Perth. If Smiley can’t come to APOT, APOT comes to Smiley, and that means Perth.”

And as the educational and networking days rolled on, it was really this sentiment, this kind of personal connection, industry friendship and bond between business contacts who have become lifelong friends that I realized was the hallmark of the association, driving all its intentions.

This was my first APOT Asia but there were around 100 delegates here from over 15 countries. Being a part of previous events had clearly given many a unique bond. Unlike the usual exhibition and conference gatherings, this event was focused on a relaxed pace, informal attire (with a fine for anyone wearing a tie), had its own theme song (!) and offered the chance to chat business while at the same time having fun.

There were no appointment schedules or well rehearsed corporate launches as we’ve come to expect when the trade gathers, but instead numerous small conversations in casual settings – during golf or wine-tasting, in coffee breaks and bars – as delegates from destinations as diverse as Sri Lanka and the USA, the UK and Vietnam, Germany and Indonesia, India and Ireland got to understand a little more about the business of fellow delegates and chatted through ideas and initiatives to follow up at a later date.

The activities we shared reflected the destination we were visiting – even the educational day started in dramatic style with a welcome from the local Wadumbah indigenous dance group. Market insights were provided by Western Australia’s minister of tourism Paul Papalia and a small exhibition area offered the chance to chat with active players in the region such as Mallaghan, Sunny Queen Meal Solutions, Portavin, Chelcey Teas and Juice Revolution.

An Australian-themed Gala Dinner was hosted by lead sponsor and key caterer in the region, dnata catering, featuring an elaborate menu of local produce. An association day trip along the Swan River showcased the region’s wineries and local specialities. Additional event sponsors included Formia, Beemster cheese, Perth Inflight Catering, ACIT group, Buzz, Malton Inflight and JC Consulting, which all played their part in making the event a success.

As I headed back to the airport for my flight home, I had a new understanding of the Asia Pacific region and its way of doing business. I had new contacts, new friends and new insights. As ceo Jeremy Clark said: “So, now you know. This is ‘networking differently’, this is what APOT is all about.”

It was certainly different, and I actually think they might be on to something. At a time when the industry is massively focused on personalisation, there is no question that there is a place for forging personal connections with business colleagues, building understanding across cultures and spending time together with no pre-set agenda.

Onboard Hospitality wishes APOT every success with its next event (where next Happy? Really, Shanghai??) and looks forward to working with the team to add some fun and colour to our own Onboard Hospitality Forum – Asia in Singapore this November 13-14. We hope to see you there!