More UK firms should be attending the new MIPIM event for emerging markets: the amount of work on offer could be a lifeline
Stepping on to La Croissette in Cannes on Tuesday morning, I have to admit to being slightly disorientated. Having made the same trip nine months ago for the annual frenzied, alcohol-fuelled property get together that is Mipim, I was expecting to be confronted at once with sixty Russians in upgraded wheelbarrows giving out vodka shots to anyone within hollering distance of the Palais des Festivals. But no wheelbarrows were in sight. And not the faintest whiff of Smirnoff.
In fact, until i reached the Palais itself, with a sensible banner welcoming delegates to the inaugral Mipim Horizons, the festival for emerging markets, there was nothing to indicate anything was happening at all. The closest thing to an emerging market I came across for my first hour in Cannes was the stallholders quietly setting up a Christmas fair just down the road.
The closest thing to an emerging market I came across for my first hour in Cannes was the stallholders quietly setting up a Christmas fair just down the road
The eerie silence continued to pervade for the first couple of hours inside the festival hall, where a single floor of the Palais is taken up by exhibitors - mainly governments or large developers - from countries as diverse as Morrocco, Brazil and Russia. "People are starting to come," said one nervous stand executive, watching yet another plant be wheeled into place to fill the emptiness, "but it's been quite slow...."
The small scale of this event by comparison to its brash March counterpart is to be expected given this is its first year, but it's perhaps a worrying reflection on the priorities of companies in developed markets such as the UK that they have not sent more delegates down to wintry Cannes.
There are only a handful of individuals here flying the flag for British industry
There are only a handful of individuals here flying the flag for British industry - Benoy, Foreman Roberts, Chapman Taylor and Dyer are pretty much the only well-known names I've spotted so far - and its noticeable that in contrast to March, French, rather than English is the dominant language in the hall (this has produced some amusing errors on my part - a delegate from Montenegro apparently thought I wanted to "stand on a cocktail" when I was seeking their welcome reception on Tuesday afternoon).
I know, I know - there's a credit crunch on and people are battening down the hatches, but I bet that many of our absent firms will still find enough change in the coffers to send half a dozen delegates down in March - even if that's ten people fewer than last year.
How many UK firms have given serious thought to Montenegro's burgeoning tourism industry
But with overseas markets more important than ever as a lifeline to British industry, had they thought to send even one of that number down for this event the potential opportunities could have been worth their weight in springtime champagne bottles.
How many UK firms have given serious thought to Montenegro's burgeoning tourism industry, for example, where a single project currently in the pipeline is likely to double the country's GDP? And if they have, have they had the chance to quiz the country's economic minister over the exposure of the markets to the credit crunch? Exactly.
Don't get me wrong - Cannes in March is a lot of fun and as a vehicle for catching up with old contacts it certainly has its place. But if firms are serious about surviving next year with margins even vaguely intact, the price of a hotel room for a couple of nights and a French phrase book looks a lot safer bet than champagne and caviar on board the Candys' yacht.