by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | April 14, 2011

malarkMaking good on its strategic-development promise to aggressively expand its footprint in China, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based meetings procurement/site-selection firm HelmsBriscoe recently inked a partnership deal with Beijing-based VariArts Travel Group, a luxury travel consolidator that provides destination management, marketing and event-planning services. According to HB, the deal will help provide additional support for clients heading to China, as well as increase its profile and distribution within China's growing meetings market.

Currently, China's meeting industry is estimated to generate US$150 billion annually and is forecast to grow at a rate of 20 percent year-over-year. Meanwhile, HB, which saw its business in that country increase by 47 percent in 2010 over 2009, says it currently is on track to see that number leapfrog by — ready for this? — a whopping 256 percent by year’s end.

Interestingly, the biggest challenge to dominating the Chinese market is not, as one might expect, the language barrier, says Greg Malark, HB's chief operating officer. "It's that our business model is still very new within China's meeting industry," he notes. "So, developing and maintaining relationships with local Chinese hotels is something we will also concentrate our efforts on moving forward."

According to Malark, the associates who have joined HB's team on the ground in China (now numbering close to 30) are seasoned travel and meeting specialists who will serve as mentors and guides to assist inbound clients as well as other associates negotiating business. "Those not familiar with doing business in China will have a great source of information to support them, not only on venue-selection issues but also for cultural considerations as well," says Malark.

And in case you are wondering where exactly in China all these meetings are taking place, it comes down to a gang of four: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Not only are they China's major business hubs, they also represent the bulk of hotel development in the last several years. Never content to relax for too long, though, HB already is looking ahead. "There are a number of other Chinese markets that we see great potential and opportunity in," says Malark.