Rising to the challenge

PCMA's managing director of APAC Karen Bolinger reiterates why the association's role is important in this current climate, and goes in-depth about its myriad trade efforts in helping MICE professionals focus on the future


What motivated PCMA to come up with the Business Events Compass, an actionable framework of insights and strategies for business event professionals to move forward during the pandemic and beyond?
The Business Events Compass is core and central to PCMA’s business events industry global recovery plan and is the starting point for what we call the ‘Recovery Discovery’ journey.

The motivation behind Compass was to not only understand how our industry has been impacted by Covid-19, but to determine what our members and industry need to recover, and how we as an association can support our members by giving them the things they need now: high-value information, relevant courses and a community of support.

Compass has been the result of a consolidation of thousands of people from all over the world – PCMA members, DMO leaders, brands, delegates and industry stakeholders. It was developed through a series of surveys undertaken by PCMA Insights – PCMA’s global consulting practice – where data was captured and analysed across six Think Tanks with 130 global business event leaders; interviews with global brand and association leaders; and a consideration of the global econometric recovery models.

It aims to be the pre-eminent source of data that business events leaders can use to inform their decision making.

How does having this actionable framework help the event industry?
What we are seeing from across Asia-Pacific are different speeds of recovery in and among the different verticals in our sector. What people need, whether they run businesses that are small or large, is access to excellent data and insights to help them make decisions on how to rebuild their business. Usually, information of this calibre is only available to bureaux, government bodies and large multinationals.

However, PCMA wants to ensure that all members of the industry have access to this information.

What trends in the business are you seeing, aside from hybrid events that will become the norm?
Hybrid events are definitely on the agenda. Until people feel safe enough to go to face-to-face events again, and restrictions are eased to accommodate larger numbers of people, events will need to have an online element. However, this is also providing a great opportunity, as associations and brands are reaching far greater numbers than before.

We recently analysed the results from the APAC Recovery Dashboard Survey which demonstrated the real impact the pandemic has had on the industry, the appetite to recover and the uncertainty of what to do now.

One of the main concerns to come out of the results from Asia Pacific was that planners aren’t sure how to plan or budget for a hybrid or digital event. That’s why we have been sure to infuse this into our Digital Event Strategist course, as we want to ensure we give our members the tools to succeed in the current environment.

Other trends we predict we’ll see:
• Increase of skills and demand for an all-rounder
• Localised smaller events
• New technologies and advancements in the production and delivery of online events

You took on the managing director APAC role in April, in the thick of Covid-19. Why did you agree to taking up this mantle, and how are helping to improve the MICE landscape?
After having a year out of the industry, I was ready to get back to work, and business events has always been a passion of mine. I have been involved with PCMA for quite some time, most recently sitting on their Regional Advisory Board. When the pandemic hit, I knew the struggles and hardships my colleagues and friends would face. When PCMA approached me, the timing was right, and I felt I could make a difference in supporting the industry.

In my new role, I knew I could help guide and strengthen PCMA members in the Asia-Pacific region and it was an opportunity to bring together PCMA’s great education programs and successes, localise them for the Asia-Pacific region, and really add value to the benefits PCMA delivers to their members.

PCMA’s core customer is the event planner from associations, corporates and agencies. In Asia-Pacific, there has been a gap in their professional development which needed to be filled. PCMA looks forward to helping train, reskill and upskill, and initiate conversations around how we adapt to this new MICE landscape – we can’t go back, so it’s about finding ways to work forward.

How soon do you think the travel industry can get out of this slump?
I think the Asia-Pacific region is on the road to recovery faster than the rest of the world. Having said that, there is still a long way to go with countries recovering at different rates and setbacks as a result of second waves of infection.

The BE Compass predicts that in 3Q2021 we’ll start to see some green shoots of growth. However, we are largely at the mercy of this virus, how our authorities manage it and the development and distribution of a vaccine.

At play are also factors such as our customers’ appetite to travel, their company’s travel policies and their risk profile. This will influence the speed and scale at which we return. I think realistically it will be 12 months before people are willing to travel outside of their own country. But I’d love to be surprised and have the travel industry recover sooner.

What message would you like to share with the MICE sector?
It’s a tough time right now for many of us with so many emotions and practicalities in play that change daily, and a lot of it is out of our control. This causes us to lose confidence and hope.

What I do know is that taking care of your health and wellbeing is important and the MICE community is a large family that cares; so reach out to your MICE network to provide support and seek support. Also, do explore outside the sector for inspiration to rebuild within the sector. I’m an optimist and always say out of adversity comes opportunity.

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