MIPIM started as a harmless chance to swap business cards in the sun. That was before it all got out of hand, with parties and the rise of the sinister ‘Organisers'
aI have just returned from a property conference in the South of France. I now feel a bit like someone attending a therapy encounter group; I feel that I should start by saying: "My name is Richard and I have been doing MIPIM for more than 15 years now."
President George Bush, with startling honesty, has recently admitted that Americans are addicted to oil and that this has to end for the good of world stability.
My message is a bit less less epoch-making, but I think I should make it anyway: our industry is also becoming addicted - addicted to conferences, and the more exotic the location, the greater the appeal.
As is the way with addictions, at some point they get out of control. So it is with us. There are now too many get-togethers, they are too expensive and it seems to me that all too often the firm gets little return for sending people on them.
My MIPIM habit started innocently enough. I remember we used to get phone calls from people calling themselves "The Organisers" and initially we ignored them.
Then our senior partner at the time - we shall call him John - said we should try it. He had a place in the South of France, and that allowed us easy access to Cannes and hence to MIPIM. To the best of my knowledge, John now lives permanently in the region.
In the beginning, the fair mainly consisted of British consultants swapping cards in the sunshine and making empty promises of glorious projects to come. But rapidly more and more people started getting involved, particularly people from mainland Europe, and money starting pouring in.
Rumours abounded of fit-out contractors defaulting on their debts, wild parties in villas in the mountains, and the famous brothers began using increasingly large boats. Eventually they began hiring motherships that had to moor outside the port while a shuttle of small craft ferried guests to them.
Heavy MIPIM users, known in the trade as "agents", started using initials to protect their identity, leaving the novice to wake in the morning wondering just what they were supposed to do at a CDBTREZ reception.
The emails ping into my inbox with tiresome regularity: ‘Book now for the latest Asian conference and receive a free delegate pass and a chance to sponsor the awards dinner – you know it makes sense’
There was no end to it all - hotel bookings had to be made through the mysterious Organisers, entry to specified areas required delegate passes and people were threatened with accusations of "parasitic trading".
I realised just how out of control things had become last summer, when I took my family on holiday to Cannes for several days under the pretext that the town "is a nice place to visit" - that is, it has a sandy beach and is near Nice airport.
As soon as we arrived, I knew something was wrong. I had expected to see Giles interrogating his Blackberry on the kerb or Gerald whispering into his mobile but the scene was completely different. There were empty tables at Bar Roma, you could stretch out in the Martinez and I discovered that the local microclimate did not automatically induce feelings of nausea and headaches, a new experience for me at this location.
And it's not just MIPIM. We have too many gatherings nowadays, and they take place all across the world. The emails ping into my inbox with tiresome and predictable regularity: "Book now for the latest Asian conference and receive a free delegate pass and a chance to sponsor the awards dinner - you know it makes sense."
The introduction of the PFI was a wonderful fillip for the conference circuit - just when you thought there were no new subjects to experience, along came something nobody knew the first thing about. Lo and behold! A chance to showcase more "experts", many of whom by definition lacked all practical experience except that of appearing on conference platforms.
We were persuaded to pay and attend on the pretext of other attendees being possibly just the sort of people with whom we should rub shoulders and meet. In most cases they turned out to be our direct competitors, who had also been persuaded to pay and attend on the same basis. How many of these will be paying us fees in the future?
To avoid next year's MIPIM temptation and at the suggestion of my therapy encounter group, I am booking tickets to the other side of the world to participate in a property sailing regatta in Sydney - which is similar to the UK's Little Britain event.
Finally, a word of caution to newcomers to our industry: if somebody offers you a trip to MIPIM or any other of these gatherings, with its multitude of irresistible opportunities, just say non!
Richard Steer is the senior partner at Gleeds