No buzz in Beijing

It was to have been China’s grand foray into international real estate as it was about to play host to Fiabci’s (French acronym for the Paris-based International Real Estate Federation) World Congress for the first time. Such an event in the past had attracted real estate professionals from all over the world.

But it turned out to be a non-event: the five-day 60th World Congress, which was to have started on May 19, was called off at the 11th hour — much to the chagrin of the delegates. By the time word got out to Fiabci chapters around the world on May 15, some of the 600 delegates had already checked into Beijing Hotel, the congress venue.

According to a Malaysian delegate who arrived in Beijing on May 15, the 100 or so delegates decided to network among themselves. As this goes to print, plans were mooted among the delegates to hold a cocktail reception to honour the installation of the new 2009-2010 Fiabci world president Lisa Kurrass.
A significant agenda of the congress would have been the presentation of the Fiabci Prix d’Excellence Awards 2009 originally planned for May 21. It is now left to the respective winners and Fiabci chapters to hold their individual award presentations back home.

Malaysia has two main winners in S P Setia’s Setia Eco Gardens Johor (Master Plan category) and Pavilion Kuala Lumpur (Retail). The latter is making arrangements to celebrate its win with a grand party on May 29. The celebration will be held at the retail complex, with Kurrass in attendance. On May 30, Fiabci Malaysia will play host to Kurrass, who is scheduled to present the award to S P Setia.

The Fiabci World Congress is one of the highlights of the Fiabci calendar, but the manner it was scrapped this year leaves much to be desired. While the rationale behind the move is understandable — the H1N1 flu pandemic is not something to be ignored — the decision should have been made earlier.

One may argue that since there has been no let-up in the spread of the flu, Beijing was justified in making a last-minute order to stop the show. This may be true but to put the brakes on an international event on such short notice would only throw a spanner in the works as China bids to reach out further to the international real estate fraternity.

However, the feeling of disappointment among the delegates — particularly the China Real Estate Association (CREA), which organised the congress, and award winners from different parts of the world — must have been even more acute for Kurrass. She is chairman of the Real Estate Connection International, a property management and real estate brokerage company based in Houston, Texas. It is no mean feat to be voted Fiabci world president, what more its first female president, given that real estate is traditionally a male-dominated industry.

In Malaysia, we have a past Fiabci world president in Datuk Alan Tong, a veteran developer acknowledged as the local “Condo King”. Tong was crowned Fiabci world president at the 56th Fiabci World Congress held in Athens four years ago. The honour marked a signal personal achievement for him in his more than 40 years in the local real estate industry.

While Tong’s inauguration ceremony was witnessed by a cheering crowd of about 700, including a 70-odd strong delegation comprising Fiabci Malaysian chapter leaders, Tong’s family members, well-wishers and members of the Malaysian media, this was not to be for Kurrass. This year, sadly, there won’t be any such event to pass the baton. It would be tough to bring together all the 600 delegates again.

For now, in place of deliberations on real estate issues, Fiabci and CREA officials in Bejing have been huddled in discussion on how to deal with the sudden turn of events. CREA, it seems, has agreed to refund delegates the registration fees, optional tour fees and hotel deposits upon written requests. The association has also appealed to the delegates to “understand the situation” and to accept the reason for the postponement of the event.

Unfortunately, the gesture by Beijing to smoothen ruffled feathers will not erase the episode.
At presstime, Fiabci considered the 60th Fiabci World Congress cancelled.

Au Foong Yee is editor of City & Country


This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 756, May 25 – 31, 2009.

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