BY keeping pace with technology, Hong Kong can stay on top of the fast-changing conference market. Ann Gorden, the managing director of Legal Business in Asia, said information technology had become so sophisticated that conferences must be able to offer more than simply information exchange. Also, business people wanted to experience emerging markets for themselves. ''It is the networking opportunities presented by conferences that cannot be replaced,'' Ms Gorden said. ''That is why it is so important to ensure that our conferences provide an environment where delegates are able to explore fresh opportunities for business.'' Legal Business in Asia is part of the London-based Richbell Group. It opened its Hong Kong office in March last year. ''In the past, our company was more involved in legal and professional conferences but now our direction is broadening to take advantage of the wider opportunities Asia presents,'' Ms Gorden said. The company hosts 40 conferences annually on subjects as diverse as health and safety, developments in China's insurance industry and financial planning. It also arranges ''customised conferences'', tailor-made to the specific requirements of individual companies. It is honing in on networking by organising conferences that bring representatives of developing economies together. This has given Legal Business in Asia an edge in the industry. ''This is a very new development that makes us different,'' Ms Gorden said. ''We hope to set up personalised networking opportunities for senior business people to meet relevant trading partners from the Far East and create tangible business opportunities to facilitate trade .'' Next March, the company will host the first Asia Trade Forum to be held in Hong Kong. It will bring together 200 delegates from eastern Europe, most of whom will be from Russia, and business representatives from Asian countries to forge links with one another as well with as local trading partners. Top speakers will address specialised industry workshops so that those attending can choose topics that match their specific needs. ''For instance, an electronics manufacturer from Vladivostok in Russia can opt for a particular workshop where he will have the chance to meet a local importer,'' Ms Gorden said. ''Conferences cost time and money to attend. There is a danger that they could become a devalued commodity due to lack of focus. ''We will provide hard information, the opportunity to forge invaluable trading links with key trading partners and to gain insight into the Far Eastern market.'' The 21/2-day conference will be followed by a programme that will include factory visits into China and the chance to follow up business. ''We will be seeking sponsorship from businesses which wish to get more involved with eastern European trade,'' Ms Gorden said. ''Increasingly, the mainland will become important, and Vietnam is expected to emerge as a growing area for conferences. ''The conference business is market-driven, and so it is important to go where the market is when seeking a suitable location for a conference.'' Hong Kong was still the ideal place to combine business with conference attendance and, ''as it increasingly becomes closer to China, it holds all the more reason to come''. Planning was another key ingredient for a successful event: nothing beat the quality of service and staff in Hong Kong, she said. ''In just one week here, I can achieve far more in putting conferences together than elsewhere,'' Ms Gorden said.