South-east Asian companies are likely to continue to leverage on virtual platforms and host hybrid events in the near future, perhaps until a Covid-19 vaccine is available.
This view was raised by M Gandhi, group managing director-ASEAN business, Informa Markets, at the recent Exhibitions: Key to Rebuilding Economies webinar on May 6.
Hosted by the Malaysian Association Of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (MACEOS), other attending speakers include Mohd Mustafa Abdul Aziz, deputy CEO, Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) and Abdul Khani Daud, CEO, Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB).
Moderated by Francis Teo, honorary secretary, MACEOS, the webinar was set up to bring MACEOS, MATRADE and MyCEB together to discuss plans and frameworks that needed to be put in place to support the recovery of the exhibition sector.
During the webinar, Gandhi also predicted that the South-east Asian exhibitions industry will reopen in three phases. First, events will see domestic participation, which will be followed by bilateral participation, made possible by agreements between countries with lower-risk of transmission. Eventually, at the last stage â€“ when a vaccine is available â€“ exhibitions will be open to participants worldwide.
However, before the industry reaches the final phase and operates at pre-Covid-19 capacity, virtual elements and exhibitions will continue to supplement and complement physical exhibitions, Gandhi reckoned.
For instance, general managers in charge of South-east Asian countries at Informa Markets were working to allow more exhibitors to connect with buyers online, through the company’s Digital Showrooms platform.
While the virtual solution fulfils its purpose of helping business overcome pandemic-caused disruptions, Gandhi did not foresee complete digitalisation of exhibitions, emphasising the importance of buyers being able to touch and test products at physical events.
Nevertheless, hybrid events and the use of online elements will be here to stay, providing delegates with the option to attend events virtually, which would open up the exhibitions to more attendees worldwide.
Vincent Lim, president, MACEOS, agreed that hybrid exhibitions will become more common going forward, especially as organisers seek to engage participants across a range of countries who will be emerging from the pandemic at different times.
One industry player that seemed to be leaning more toward digitalisation than the rest, however, is Mohd Mustafa. He shared that MATRADE has held 474 virtual B2B meetings between March 18 â€“ when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was first enacted â€“ and press time. The agency is also looking at allowing online trade exhibitions to apply for its Market Development Grant.
Currently, the Malaysian government has not given a concrete date for the resumption of live gatherings and business events in the country. The sector is however, taking action to provide policymakers with the information they need to legislate a restart of exhibitions.
According to Lim, a task force â€“ comprising MACEOS, the Business Events Council Malaysia, and the countryâ€™s Arts, Live Festival and Events Association â€“ has submitted a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for live and business events post-MCO, to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture for approval.
Gandhi reckoned that, in following the SOPs put forward by the task force, Malaysia could be ready to resume trade exhibitions in August or September this year.