Reimagining convention centres

Marina Bay Sands' Wee Min Ong challenges the traditional concept of convention centres and underlines the need for these spaces to be more than just a venue

Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre

I recently had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts on MICE venue management with a group of fellow industry professionals who were aspiring leaders in their respective MICE venues around the world. The conversation inevitably centred on topics such as how big our respective exhibition halls are, how many meeting rooms / plenary rooms / ballrooms we have and how we deliver F&B service.

When I described venues as essentially being one big box, some looked at me as if I was crazy. However let’s take a step back and think more about it.

Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre

MICE venues are an integral part of the MICE industry. They are the facilities that host the many tradeshows, conferences, product launches and incentives around the world. In essence, regardless of its form or structure, MICE venues are essentially big empty boxes. It is the events we host that gives us life, colour and purpose.

In the week that we host a major maritime tradeshow, we are the home of the maritime industry; and in the week that we host a mega banking conference, we become the home of the finance community. We are shape-shifters, albeit one that transforms with a combination of willpower, creativity and expertise. Once we have this in our minds, our approach to business engagements will naturally evolve.

At this sharing session, I also cited an example of my first meeting with one of our clients during her first site visit. She was surprised that the first question posed (after all the pleasantries) was: “How does your event make you money?”

She assumed that I would be asking the usual questions such as the square metres and number of meeting rooms required, and catering needs. I smiled and explained that the information is critical so that we can advise her on the best opportunities to meet her business objectives – be it sponsorship, delegate numbers or tradeshow sales.

The conversations we had after that initial moment were rich and rewarding. Conversations like these allow us to focus on what is truly important for our clients in order to help them grow.

We should not be a mere four-walled solution and should stop thinking merely in terms of square metres or pax. As a partner in the business events industry, venues should think of ourselves as an important business platform with numerous varied assets which our clients can pick, leverage upon and meet their business objectives.

MICE venues are part of the knowledge, information and business networking industry. People meet at our venues for face-to-face engagements and to transact knowledge, networks as well as business in their respective fields.

In the current modern world where one can easily access all the information and data needed online and across multiple content channels, face-to-face events will have to stand out and deliver more value. Face-to-face events will have to be about delivering engaging and unique experiences; they have to create engagement opportunities for peers in the community to gain valuable insights, networks and relationships that other channels do not have.

Enabling peer-to-peer engagement will slowly become the new baseline for venues. In real estate terms and traditional venue speak, this lies in the creation of small, open semi-private spaces to enable delegates and trade visitors to connect freely and facilitate peer-to-peer engagements.

In technology terms, this lies in the availability of a secured, high-speed connectivity network to enable our client communities to connect with each other.

In F&B terms, this lies in the re-invention of institutional coffee snack spots or conference lunch setups and menus to drive delegate conversations by serving as interesting cultural talking points.

Today’s delegate learns differently and wants different things from his fellow delegate. They are no longer satisfied with an institutional and cookie-cutter product. They want to be engaged, to have experiences that they can amplify to their wider personal and professional communities, and to derive value in their involvement and to be ‘wowed’.

The curation and personalisation of the delegate experience enhances engagement within each client community during each event. These unique unforgettable experiences are then amplified to the wider delegate communities and these wider communities become our audience.

The convention centre of tomorrow has to start thinking “out-of-box”. We have to see our clients as partners and more importantly be the enablers to drive innovation and their success. Are you ready?

Wee Min Ong serves as the vice president of MICE at Marina Bay Sands (MBS). He is responsible for the overall management of the Sands Expo & Convention Centre. He also currently serves on the board of directors for PCMA, on a three-year term which started in 2017. He was the first Asian meeting professional to be appointed to the PCMA board. Ong is also active in the Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organizers & Suppliers (SACEOS).

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