Asia Pacific Research Committee – Ulaanbataar, Mongolia

By: Martin Tomlinson

MRSS Singapore was invited to Ulaanbataar by the Market Research Society Mongolia for this years annual APRC conference, for those unaware of the APRC, it is a collective of AsiaPac research societies with aim to work together to provide consistency across the region and to support each other with initiatives in each market, such as a conference. There are 11 members within the APRC: New Zealand Research Association, Australian ASMRS and AMRO, Indonesia PERPI, Singapore MRSS, Malaysia MRSM, Thailand TMRS, Taiwan CMRS, China CMRA, Japan JMRS, South Korea’s KORA and Mongolia MMRS. Each organisation had a member representative attend the conference in Mongolia. Prior years conferences have been in Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. 

When you first think of Mongolia, I’m sure Yurts (Gers), Horses, Ghenghis Khan and freezing cold weather, all come first to mind and you’d be right, even today the nomadic culture is strong even in there most populace city Ulaanbaatar, but what was surprising was just how developed it was. With nearly half of all resident Mongolians living in UB, it’s a thriving emerging city with traffic jams on the scale of Jakarta and Bangkok. About 60% of the population there still live Gers (aka Yurts) and these have become suburbs known as Ger districts – quite safe to walk around and especially easily to get lost in. My visit started flying to Hong Kong to catch a direct Mongolian Airlines flight to UB, upon landing the cold hits you immediately even though this is still the warmer months of the year, a light dusting of snow hit as my driver took me to my apartment and that night temperatures dropped to  -8. UB’s yearly average temperature is -0.4 degrees Celsius, making it the coldest capital city in the world, colder even than Moscow and Helsinki, UB’s elevation of 1350 meters above sea level and it being nestled in a valley probably has a lot to do with this and winters can get down as low as -40 below 0. Fortunately 3 huge soviet era coal burning power stations are nestled within the city, you pass 2 of them on your way in from the airport, these stations power hot water into the inbuilt radiators to the multitude of soviet built apartment buildings throughout the city keeping them nice and warm on the inside despite the freezing weather outside. Each block surrounds a children’s playground and small park with exercise equipment mostly dilapidated these days but surprising well used, Mongolians enjoy time outdoors when there’s an opportunity.  

My first 24 hours was then spent finding my bearings to locate the ‘Sim Lim’ of UB, a monolithic structure of the soviet variety 15 minutes walk from my apartment had ‘Computer Land’ broadly stamped across it, my laptop had died on the first night (possibly cold shock after being so used to the tropics in Singapore) and I was now negotiating repair prices with the locals via Google Translate app. Additionally I had learned on the walk over, UB is not mapped with street numbers the same way most other city’s are, in fact to give or get directions is mainly done using main streets and landmarks. I picked up the laptop the next day, it was unable to be fixed in UB the cost to me was 5000 MNT (SGD $2.80) more than reasonable in fact as I know they had spent at least half a day looking into it. This isn’t to say things in general are cheap in UB, in fact labour is and food generally is but imported goods are expensive, buying cold weather gear in a mall in UB was a mistake I wont make again, even with 50% off, prices were still quite a bit higher than in Singapore. 

The next day saw the APRC general meeting, with presentations from each of the representatives of each of the societies taking the stage for 10-15 minutes to update on their past year achievements and goals, then discussions around how to work together better to meet them. From my part I had a specific focus to look to obtain more information around cross-country learning and content/authors with an international flavour for our upcoming newsletters, mission achieved and we will be pleased to roll out some new regular content in our upcoming newsletters as well as our society will be able to look into some global training tools we can make our own as well as join or produce webinars that can reach around the globe on specific areas of interest to us. More to come on these as we test and compare them. One new feature both on our website and in the newsletters we provide moving forward will be an update from the GRBN (Global Research Business Network), which brings together Market Research Society bodies from across the globe – America’s, Africa, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Look out for this in this newsletter content and feel free to submit articles you think may be of interest for Global Industry by reaching out to use here at MRSS. 

The Friday saw the first APRC conference in Mongolia, hosted by the Mongolian Market Research Association and their main sponsor Mongolian Marketing Consulting Group, a full service Market Research operator with 15 years under their belt. 

The conference drew in a crowd of around 200-250 people, which is no small feat given how small a country Mongolia is; with International speakers from the APRC delegation from Thailand, UK, Netherlands, China, Australia and whole host of local presentations simultaneously translated to English, Chinese and Korean for the APRC delegates. The TV news stations came in with several news channels picking up the conference as well as Bloomberg interviewing several of the APRC delegates and the local organisers. Among the Mongolian attendees were Heads of Industry, Members of Parliament and other senior officials, University professors and even some high profile entertainers – this was certainly the place to be if you were in Mongolia that week. The produced conference was slick, it moved effortlessly on time from speaker to speaker with very little interruption or downtime, the networking sessions were well put together with rooms with space to spread out, great food and a wide variety of sponsors offering plenty of product. More on the conference presentations can be found here: 

The evening saw a display of local dances incorporating mythical beings the culture acknowledges, a buffet of local and international food and a special guest operatic baritone Ankhbayar Enkhbold who won the prestigious international Eva Marton Competition and is known as the best voice in Mongolia, have a listen here to this amazing talent: https://youtu.be/wadTv9fWeEw Sponsored by Chivas Whisky the evening ran late into the early hours with Mongolians proving that it’s not just Vodka they are famous for but a constitution that makes those long nights out typical in Japan or Korea a very Mongolian experience. Overall the standard of conference was very good and despite being a small country with limited experiance, they definitely punched well above their weight putting on a seamless conference experience comparable to the wealth and resources of Australia and Japan conferences from the past.

The next morning I joined the APRC and invited guests delegation on a day tour outside of UB, we took a bus guided by a police escort at to the Great Chenggis Khan Statue, with an award proudly displayed as the largest equine statue in the world, it was stunning and certainly conveyed the nations pride in Chenggis Kahn. From here a short trip down a dirt track to us to Khaan Jims, a lifestyle retreat with some ‘broken in’ famous Steppes horses that we could ride, an attempt at archery and a series of meals and drinks fit for a Kaan in our private Ger. If you love eating lamb as much as I do, you will find Mongolia a food paradise, unlike most of Asia, Mongolian food is root vegetable and roast meat based, along with hearty stews and Asian inspired dumplings that really taste like beef pies, milk drinks are consumed with every meal and really the variety is in which animal the milk comes from – most of the milks are unsweetened, tart and often a bit sour as is the flavour preferred locally, you’ll find most soups slightly sour also. Khaan Jim’s wasn’t just a meal stop for us, but an opportunity for the delegates to plant a Sea Buckthorn shrub, so off we went in light snow with spades and shovels into the plantation – fortunately the holes had been dug for us as we were all itching to get back into a warm Ger again and each Society representatives planted a Sea Buckthorn each of which the local Mongolian MRS will keep us updated on it’s survival and growth over the next years. Sea Buckthorn is a medicinal plant that has many beneficial qualities for Mongolia, so not just as a food source (Mongolians drink this heated like tea, but it’s a bit too sour for my taste) but it helps hold the soil together and prevents the encroachment of the Gobi desert or at risk areas through its complex and hardy root network providing a significant amount of nitrogen into the soil which helps other vegetation grow, provide shine for the horses coats and keeps them looking good and is an important export for their economy to be used in pharmaceutical products the world over. For anyone who would like a taste, I have 4 vials of the consumable product from Khaan Jims and the first 4 members to email our secretary with Sea Buckthorn in the headline will have a vial posted to them.  

Monday I visited the Platinum Sponsor, Mongolia Marketing Consulting Group, a full service research agency who have been operating in Mongolia for 15 years. I took a tour of their premises and met with their senior management Amgalanbaatar and Davaasuren, we discussed the types of the work they have been running and the challenges they face in a market as expansive as Mongolia. MMRC had adopted CAPI interviewing and had fond memories of visiting Singapore to buy their first tablets in a quantity and type unavailable in Mongolia at the time. They also have a CATI facility mainly used for Ulaanbaatar projects as well as having modern and up to date focus group rooms. If you’re looking for a capable provider in Mongolia, I was very impressed with what I saw the facilities and work ethos seem to be on par with any Singaporean agency you’d expect to outsource too. You may find their company details here: https://directory.esomar.org/country118_Mongolia/r4140_Mongolian-Marketing-Consulting-Group.php  

In summary, Mongolia is an emerging market which may be small, but punches well above its weight class in capabilities and getting things done right first time if the conference was anything to go by. I think what surprised me the most was I was expecting a mini Jakarta or mini Bangkok, but what I got was a clean, efficient (except for the traffic), custom rich and surprisingly Singapore experience so far from home. 

Find out more about GRBN here: http://grbn.org/ 

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