Be my guest

Nicolas Porembny, the Country Manager Macao for Riviera

With large and very good venues and facilities, the events industry is bound to continue flourishing in Macau. Striking a good balance between local experience and international credentials is the mandate of Riviera Events, a company with 12 years of experience in the Chinese market, and with an office just recently opened here. The Country Manager Macao for Riviera, Nicolas Porembny, a Polish-French man who grew up in South America, talked to Business Daily about prospects for development and growth, and the thrill of being in constant search for creative solutions and tailor-made designs.

How long have you been in China and how did you get involved with Riviera Events?
I came to China about three and a half years ago with a German hotel chain called Kempinski, and as Riviera Events was organizing an event for the chain, I got in touch with the company and was immediately interested in what they were doing. So I entered the company and have been working for them for three years so far. I was in Beijing before, as Area Manager of the Beijing office in charge of the North China area. It was a very interesting experience as Beijing is a very dynamic city, with a lot of corporate clients, and event activation. The team was very strong too, we did a lot of business, and the team grew very quickly. After that, they gave me the opportunity to come to Macau, and take over the Greater South China area, so I’m now in charge of the Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Macau offices, having overseen the opening of the office in Macau. We just opened it four months ago in Macau, and we are now fully operational. [The office in] Guangzhou was opened many years ago, and Shenzhen was opened last year.

Were you trained in the hospitality and events management field?
I did a hotel management school, in one of the most renowned schools in Spain, a Swiss school which has a branch in Spain. Obviously, in hospitality, you do a lot of events, so I learned and specialized in event management during my studies. I was interested in the event industry from a long time ago. I was working in hotels and, of course, hotels are also venues for events, and you are all the time working or connected with events. I spent three years in Spain, mainly with Kempinski. Before that, I did management trainees in Poland, in Monaco, and finally I decided to come to China, with Kempinski, which was developing a lot of hotels in China. I had fallen in love with Asia a long time ago. When I came, I found another industry. Even though I’m interested in hospitality, I wanted to expand my knowledge and to do something creative, and events is a creative industry. So I went for it, took the chance, and here I am, very happy to have taken that opportunity.

Why did you decide to establish the office in Macau and not in Hong Kong?
Because Hong Kong is a city that is very competitive, which is good in a way, but for us it did not make too much sense. First, Hong Kong is expensive, and there are lots of events agencies in town, specialized in different kinds of markets, including our market. In Macau, there are not that many agencies as ours. There are a few events companies that are local, well, that are managed by locals, and they do most of the events for the government, they have the connections, but there are none or maybe only one or two event management companies that are more international. So, we saw the opportunity to open something in Macau and, obviously, we know that Macau is a very dynamic city, where the MICE industry is also growing. We had analysed it a bit in advance. For instance, this year, I think that for the first quarter there were some 360 MICE events in town, which is 50 more than last year. It is a growing market, and I think that Macau has the venues and hotels with very good MICE facilities, so it is an ideal place for corporate clients to come and do events.

Being a new company, how do you come here and develop a market for yourself?
The good thing is that, and we all know, Macau has a lot of hotels. And as we are a company now which is 12 years old and we specialize in the luxury and travel industry, which comprises hotels, we have a lot of contacts within the hospitality industry. Those people in the hospitality industry move every second, but they like to stay in the same region. They might stay in Asia for ten years or more, but they will keep moving, so we have contacts with most of those international companies from previous work in mainland China.

What was the first event you organized here?
The first event we did here in Macau was the Hotelier Awards, which happened in the Parisian, last year in December, a very successful event. The Parisian team was incredible, and we knew that the Parisian had opened just a few months before, so the facilities were amazing. And the crowd that attended the event was very interesting too, a lot of key people in the hospitality industry. The second event we did was the MECC, the Macau European Chamber of Commerce Gala dinner, which happened in the Grand Lisboa Hotel, and was attended by the members of the European Chambers of Commerce.

How do you develop your marketing strategy?
We have a lot of contacts, as I mentioned before, and our marketing strategy is quite broad including online marketing and a large database, in addition to a portfolio with case studies of different markets, including hotels, travel industry, but also corporate, institutional. After 12 years, we have good credentials, and know many people. We can reach out to them through newsletters, we have a very good database on WeChat, also some followers on Facebook, Linkedin. So our online market is quite good and our website is also very attractive.

What are the main challenges you have encountered in opening the office and working here, compared to other places you have worked before?
We have 12 years of experience in mainland China, so we know how it is to open an office there, whereas in Macau, it has its own structure and own ways of doing things, so it hasn’t been extremely challenging, and rather interesting, but it still is a different place. You need to adapt yourself, you need to understand how it works, you need to ask questions, deal with all the paperwork, be patient. The whole process of opening the office took maybe a month. You have to pass through lawyers, then apply for all the paperwork, open a bank account, and after that you have to start recruiting the staff.

What about the staff, how many people do you have in-house on a fixed basis?
At the moment, we have three staff plus one trainee. We are getting an additional staff at the end of the month, so we will have four full-time staff plus one trainee, who are basically the operational staff. They are the ones that go to talk to the clients, and deliver events in a reactive way, on site. But you cannot do an event properly with only an operation team. You also need the designer and creative departments, marketing, Human Resources, and so on, and those non-operational teams are based in Shanghai. I mean, it is still our company, our staff, but we get their help. We are more of a satellite office. The headquarters are in Shanghai. However, as the Greater South China area [Guangdong, Shenzhen, and Macau offices] is developing very fast, and we are creating a design hub here in the south, we will be able to not rely only on the design and creative team in Shanghai. We also have satellite designers in each office, not in Macau, because we just started, but we do have a graphic designer in the Guangzhou office, which is about 15 plus staff. Another good thing is that, as we are an ‘area,’ we can combine forces. If we need operational help for an event in Macau, we can easily get help from our team in Guangzhou or our team in Shenzhen.

Your in-house staff is in charge of contacting existing and potential clients and promoting what you do?
That’s right. Sales and management, talking to clients, and discussing with them what are the requirements and the needs for the events, building proposals. And the project team is in charge of finding vendors, and then the show team is in charge of the event’s execution. So during the events, to co-ordinate that everything goes smoothly as per the schedule that all the artists or any performers are on time, to manage all this. The project management team is in charge of finding those vendors. We do need to use vendors from Macau for the production, if we need to build some backdrops, or a stage, or some decorations, if we require audiovisuals, so we need to get vendors from Macau that are able to support us with this.

Would you say it is important to be working with people who know the ways things work here?
Exactly, even though we are a company who comes from mainland China, our office is composed of locals, we work with them, and we do have the local experience. So we could be considered as a local event company as well. Our company has been registered as a Macau company as well. So basically we are a local company with international background, because it is composed of a good mix or a good balance of foreigners and locals.

In regards to the casinos, do they often have their own events teams or do they sub-contract services?
That’s something very interesting in Macau. The venues and the casinos, and the hotels, and their venues and facilities are so large, and their need for events is so regular and important, because they need to entertain their guests, they have their own events team, who organize those events, find vendors themselves, and so on. But sometimes they do require help from event agencies.

Who would be your main client-base target in Macau?
We have three targets. We have first local companies, for instance, the chambers of commerce, any corporate clients, from medium size to large size. Our business model is made in such a way that we are able to deliver small and medium-sized and even larger events. Maybe many of these renowned international events agencies only deliver large-scale events. We can do smaller events too. So, that’s one market, the local one. We are also trying to reach out to hotels and casinos. Even though they have their own event teams, I believe it could be beneficial for them if they use us, because we are constantly developing new ideas. That’s our second target. And the third target would be all the corporate companies from abroad coming to Macau and using the facilities here, that would need an agency for their events. Because the events teams in all those casinos, they might be able to help all those corporate clients coming to deliver events here in Macau, but usually they are more in charge of their internal events. So those international corporate clients most likely need an event agency and having the knowledge, having the local experience, as we now do, but still having our international and high quality background and expertise, we can easily help those larger international corporations with their events.

Where are the most interesting trends coming from nowadays in the events industry?
When you go to an event as a guest, you expect to see something interesting. And usually to see something interesting, you need to see something new. That’s why it is important to deliver new things in an event. You have to have a team that is searching for those new ideas. Obviously now with the technology and the Internet, we can easily access ideas, or browse those ideas online, but you still need to have a creative team that does not only copy and paste, but that can tailor-make new things. We have our creative director in Shanghai, and his team is constantly looking for new trends and new concepts, and every time we have a new project, they will be involved in creating a new theme, and tailor-making it. We tailor-make basically every event. Finally, we also have a passion for digital integration. China is a leader when it comes to digital innovation. For us, having companies based in China, it helps us to be all the time tuned into the latest trends. We still do not have a creative designer in Macau, but everybody in the company is supposed to be looking for new trends as well, or supported to be looking for new trends. It is something that the company itself is pushing forward all the time, to search for new things. Each one of the employees are involved.

What are the prospects for growing here and what is your focus right now?
Now the focus is to make ourselves known in the market as we are a new company, and then grow as an area, so make sure that we can share resources between all the areas, the Greater South China, and look for opportunities, including surrounding areas like Hong Kong, which we can easily access by ferry.