MIPIM Asia might not measure up to MIPIM France, but it’s far less stuck up and people actually talk to each other. Just a shame the UK stand was so dismal

Some months ago I shared my views on MIPIM and its perceived shortcomings, signing off with the advice that if anybody offered you a trip, look before you leap. Well, guess what? I have just been to MIPIM and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The sky was once more a striking blue, we were again by the sea and there was the backdrop of the verdant hills that I remembered so well. However, before you cry hypocrite and rush for your diaries, let me explain that this was not MIPIM France, but MIPIM Asia. I was visiting a Hong Kong exhibition 10 years after the failed attempt to stage it in Singapore. The event was held in the magnificent Hong Kong Conference Centre, a huge, open, light and airy building, that contrasts sharply with that gloomy bunker at Cannes. The MIPIM Asia exhibition could be best described as “cute”. It took a mere 15 minutes to walk round all the stalls, taking in the bar and VIP area, and that included stopping to access my emails (for free).

It reminded me of the old days of Cannes, with a motley collection of stands ranging from mid-priced condominiums for sale by Great Barrier Reef to the ostentatious offerings from the US, and on to the heavyweights of ING and Hong Kong Land.

The British contingent included the South East England Development Agency, Graham Cartledge of Benoy, Rick Carr of Cundells and Valerie Evans of Atkins. It was refreshing to have time not only to see people but to talk with them as well. Any tiredness one felt could be blamed on jetlag rather than alcohol.

One or two displays stuck in the mind. Such as the stand from an obscure part of Russia where beautiful, long-legged women enticed us to consider investment opportunities near the Caspian Sea. And the AET stand, which provided a spasm of excitement when a colleague won half a bottle of champagne for putting a golf ball down a hole.

One of the most surprisingly dismal offerings was that purporting to represent UK architecture. When we have so much to offer as a nation that boasts Lords Foster and Rogers; the blank walls of the stand did little to promote UK plc.

With its ethos of free enterprise, Hong Kong will never succumb to that awful ‘big brother’ culture found in Cannes

What was missing, apart from 17,500 delegates and numerous non-paying hangers-on, was Bar Roma and the Martinez. I felt a twinge of nostalgia for times past but it didn’t last long, as I discovered parts of Hong Kong that I hadn’t seen since my last visit in 1997. Lan Kwai Fong, for instance, provides a lively area for late-night drinking and partying and Wanchai offers more exotic and vibrant delights than the imagination can conjure … so I am told.

And with its ethos of free enterprise and entrepreneurial history, Hong Kong will never succumb to the awful “big brother” culture of Cannes, where you are told at which hotel you can pay to stay, your admission to the bars is dependent on wearing a terrible identity card around your neck at all times and barricades separate the haves from the have nots. The haves being those on business boats, who sip champagne and eat canapés while the have nots gaze at them wistfully from behind waist-high fencing, like refugees in a biblical famine scene.

Exhibitions and conferences are a part of Hong Kong life. At any given time several will be running at once, each often attracting more than 80,000 delegates, with barely a ripple of effect on the city itself, other than adding to the life and vitality of this 24-hour global meeting point. Cannes, by comparison, is parochial, even pedestrian, with delegates paying money to be treated like Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner: oppressed, constantly watched, tagged and monitored.

As the stands at MIPIM Asia were dismantled at 4pm on the Friday, ahead of the advertised closing time, again it reminded me of Cannes in the early days. But as I left with my complimentary Earth From the Air 500-page coffee table book under my arm, the question had to be asked: “Was it worth it?”

As a visitor, I sincerely hope the exhibitors benefited and made new friends. It is still early days and nobody is really expecting flotillas of corporate boats to invade Hong Kong harbour anytime soon. But with the ever-increasing activity in Asia, the event is bound, over the years, to become more sophisticated and more successful as the region continues to attract money.

However, as exhibitors and delegates and fellow directors back home ask themselves: “Was it worth the money?” you have to smile sagely and say: “It’s that MIPIM thing – you can’t measure it but we have to be there next year!”