July 4 2018  |  Catering

APOT touches down in Perth

By Rick Lundstrom

Organizers and delegates at this year’s APOT Asia, left to right, Rakhita Jayawardena of King Power Traveler, Chef Keerthi Hapugasdeniya of HappyK Solutions, Jeremy Clark, APOT CEO, Joanne Cook, Managing Director of SIAL Middle East and Bambang Sujatmiko, the Chairman of APOT and President of PT Aerofoods ACS

Perth, Western Australia — Four years in the making, with several starts and stops, the Asia Pacific Onboard Travel (APOT) event concluded June 26, living up to its goal of bringing industry professionals together for three days of “networking differently.”

The eerie strains of the Australian didgeridoo combined with the foot stomping of traditional aboriginal dancers kicked off a full-day forum of speakers and delegates fresh from the previous day’s golf tournament and tours of this Western Australia city, bathed in the sunshine and cool breezes of its mild winter. And the music didn’t stop there. During the two days, delegates danced and sang (yes, you read that right) their way through an event designed to break down barriers and stress the importance of face-to-face contact.

Paul Papalia, Tourism Minister of Western Australia was the keynote speaker of the daylong forum June 25

“APOT is absolutely a social network in the truest sense of the meaning,” said Jeremy Clark, CEO of APOT, the host for the day’s event and principal of JC Consulting in the group’s welcome to delegates who gathered at the Pan Pacific Hotel. “It works differently, dare I say, in the way it was before the term was hijacked by technology: to provide a platform within a relaxed and enjoyable environment where professionals can meet, discuss and debate our industry.

“Secondly, we strive to recognize not just the art and business of travel hospitality as an entity, but the destinations, and must work to synergize the entire experience.”

All of those goals were visible in one form or another during the daylong forum June 25. Visitors learned about the plans to advance Western Australia as a tourist destination. They also received an inside look at tourism planning from a marketing executive and tips for effective business travel from a well-known event organizer, both from Abu Dhabi. The importance of catering to halal observing travelers took up one session. And if all that wasn’t enough, attendees learned the properties and curative claims of ionized water in an interesting and entertaining session from a veteran speaker of APOT events.

Dr. HJ Rafek, second from right, recognized event hosts Perth Inflight Catering for outstanding Halal compliance

When visitors weren’t getting down to business, they had plenty of entertainment and hospitality from hosts like APOT founder Chef Keerthi Hapugasdeniya of HappyK Solutions, whose company specializes in inflight services, catering, culinary marketing, menu design,and food and beverage product development. Aiding in the organization was a team from Perth Inflight Catering. Also hosting the day’s events was Bambang Sujatmiko, the Chairman of APOT and President of PT Aerofoods ACS. An evening of dining and dancing was sponsored by dnata, an important player in the Australian market. Visitors also had the chance to cruise the serene Swan River, sample wines at the Sandalford Vineyards and visit shops and breweries in a daylong networking and socializing session the following day.

Visitors browsed through a handful of stands offering food and drink. Other sponsors were ACITGroup, Beemster Premium Dutch Cheese, Chelcey Holdings,FORMIA, Juice Revolution, Mallaghan, Malton Inflight, BUZZ Products, Portavin and Sunny Queen Meal Solutions.

Paul Papalia, Tourism Minister of Western Australia, a state that occupies a third of the massive continent/country, delivered the day’s keynote address in the afternoon. During the half-hour rundown, Papalia talked about the region’s economy, which has been rocked by a boom and subsequent downturn in the mining industry. Still, the Minister was buoyed by the possibilities of attracting airlines from Asia and the interest of hotel companies.

“There’s been a massive investment in hotel property, particularly in Perth,” he said. An additional 2,000 rooms are planned for the market (among them a Ritz-Carlton at Elizabeth Quay and a Hilton in nearby Fremantle) that could bring downward pressure on pricing. Seven hotels opened in Western Australia in the past year and another 20 are planned to open by 2020, according to a recent article in The West Australian.

Lifetime members of APOT were recognized for their contributions to the group, receiving certificates were, left to right, Rakhita Jayawardena of King Power Traveler, Pat Osborne of dnata Australia, Ismail Hazife of Perth Inflight Catering, De Nguyen Quang of Vietnam Airlines Catering, Philip Ho of Keisha Pty Ltd. and Prof. Abdul Rafek Mohamed Saleh of MHCT

Bringing tourists from Asia is an important goal of the Ministry. China Southern currently operates five weekly flights to PER,and Papalia said he hopes to see the airline increase its flights to daily. The Ministry is also in negotiations with China Eastern Japan Airlines and ANA, as well as airlines from India. Finally, Papalia expects the number of cruiseships calling and home porting at Fremantle Ports to increase in the years to come.

One of the morning speakers was Udaya Indrarathna, who served as a senior advisor for the Chairman’s Office of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and Executive Director Policy and Strategy for the Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing. The UAE capital city is experiencing brisk growth in tourism, with approximately five million visitors per year. Indrarathna brought charts and tables showing that in the past four years the city increased the number of hotel rooms to 35,600, which operated at 79% occupancy last year. By 2020, planners project the city will have more than 47,000 rooms.

The emirate is also experiencing growth in 2018. According to statistics from the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi(DCT Abu Dhabi), the number of hotel guests staying in Abu Dhabi increased by 4.9% during the first five months of this year. Overall, DCT Abu Dhabi reports that 162 hotels, resorts and hotel apartments offering a collective 31,236 rooms across the emirate welcomed 2,073,586 guests from January to May.

Dancing Down Under: A group of aboriginal dancers kicked off the day's discussions June 25

How to make the most use of time during large events such as the SIAL food show in Abu Dhabi was the subject of a discussion by Joanne Cook, Managing Director of SIAL Middle East, which also hosts the yearly presentation of the Mercury Awards.

Despite the rise of new technologies, Cook stressed "The Internet is not and never will be enough. People crave in-person experiences." In fact, Cook said studies show that chief marketing officers on average allocate 24% of annual budgets to events for travel in order to connect with customers, educate attendees and generate new leads.

A lively and entertaining discussion on the subject of water - more specifically negatively charged ion-photonic water - by William Ian Lyons, Group Chairman of Cell Welbeing Ltd.,intrigued the audience with the possibilities of using the product in inflight service as a therapeutic refreshment for passengers. Among the benefits Lyon stressed were a better absorption of nutrients, enhanced taste of food and beverage; reduced stress levels; and improved sleep patterns, all the way to enhanced immune system.

Event host Jeremy Clark, left, moderated a panel discussion with Pat Osborne of dnata, Vindex Tengker of Garuda Indonesia, Trinh Diem Vy of Taste Vietnam Group, Julie Baxter of Onboard Hospitality and Rick Lundstrom of PAX International

A growing middle class of Muslim travelers needing halal-friendly accommodations was the subject of an address by Dr. HJ Rafek of the International Halal Integrity Alliance and the Malaysia Halal Consultation and Training Agency. Rafek stressed that airline caterers and tourism facilities need to take only a few important steps to make their operations suitable for Muslim travelers. Religious accommodations,such as providing a space for prayer and time zone-synched prayer times,are among the important features and services needed these travelers.

Finally, the day ended with a one-hour panel discussion on trends in destination travel. That included Vindex Tengker, Vice President of Inflight Services at Garuda Indonesia;Trinh Diem Vy (known as Ms. Vy) of Taste Vietnam Group; Pat Osborne, head of sales at dnata Catering;Julie Baxter, Editor of Onboard Hospitality;and Rick Lundstrom, Editor-in-Chief of PAX International.

The International panel compared and contrasted the state of inflight service in various parts of the world.

APOT delegates got down to serious fun in a boat trip on the Swan River June 26 as host Keerthi Hapugasdeniya made sure a good time was had by all

Golf in a pleasant Australian winter was the order of the day June 24

For official photos from the APOT Perth forum, visit APOT's website.

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