Event changes in extraordinary times

The events industry has experienced extraordinary developments in the past year. Ahead of IT&CM and CTW China 2021, TTG Asia Media’s managing director and event organiser Darren Ng reviews lessons learnt and his outlook on international travel and events as the market moves closer to recovery.

Virtual events have developed a lot in the last year – what has been your biggest learning about running a successful virtual event?
It was definitely a steep learning curve last year with just about three months for us to figure out how we were going to approach this new dimension of virtual events.

Our main goal was to stay true to our meetings-centric approach, which is a cornerstone for our in-person events. It became obvious that the motivations and factors to make this successful is hugely different in a virtual environment when delegates are participating out of different time zones, with varying levels of digital tools and tech know-how.

Unlike in-person events, the tech component is often a defining factor in a delegate’s virtual event experience. A simple issue of not being able to connect to the platform or not being able to be heard during a meeting due to incorrect settings can erode all event planning efforts.

Our biggest takeaway was thus the importance of working with reliable tech partners who were ready to journey with us through the process to implement our vision virtually, and support our valued delegates to optimise their tech experience at the event.

In which ways do you think the industry’s experience over the last year will improve the way business events and exhibitions are run in the long term?
Covid-19 has opened the industry’s minds and eyes to re-thinking the possibilities of event concepts and formats that we had never fully explored before. While many are looking to the return of in-person events, a virtual/hybrid component is likely to be an enabler for events to involve more of their audiences and provide flexibility to how delegates engage with the show based on their schedules and preferences. It still remains to be seen how sustainable this approach will be and in what ways in-person or hybrid events will continue to transform, but I think this has created a lot of anticipation as to what events should and can now deliver once borders are reopened, and capacity restrictions are gradually eased.

What were the biggest surprises for you running IT&CM and CTW China virtually last year?
The amount of support that the event received exceeded our expectations, especially in the meetings aspect where we had concerns about the level of no-shows. For virtual events, such rates are notoriously indicated to be around 40 to 50 per cent of registered numbers. We, however, achieved a 90 per cent completion of all appointments that were pre-scheduled, which is an exceptionally high commitment rate by the delegates. The quality of meetings was also rated extremely positively by exhibitors, which proved that with the right set-up and approach, virtual events can be just as effective as physical events.

What new feature or upgrade for the 2021 virtual event are you most excited about?
The new 2.5D exhibition feature is going to be a first for the show. The initial visuals have come out really well and I think this will deliver a more vibrant-looking show floor, and provide greater branding value to our exhibitors.

We’ve also made most of our popular event content available on-demand this year, with all content being released on the first day of the show, so delegates can dive right in to enjoy the content at their convenience.

The show features an enhanced buyer incentive scheme this year that encourages buyers to earn even more guaranteed cash rewards, lucky red packets and accumulate points to win prizes. From what we have observed, this is perhaps the most attractive incentive scheme offered thus far by any other similar industry event.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to IT&CM and CTW China 2021 exhibitors to help them get the most out of the show?
Come on-board early, and leverage on all the pre-event exposure and publicity that we’re according confirmed exhibitors (at no charge at all!) as part of our extensive event marketing campaign.

Do you anticipate any major changes in the number or type of exhibitors and buyers at this year’s event, compared to last year?
We are humbling our expectations and hope that the show will continue to retain the same level of support that we did last year. That said, this year’s event is packed with upgrades and new features and we hope that this will appeal to new and even more participants. With travel resumption now in sight, compared to last year, we may also see more businesses who are ready to leverage on our event to start pre-planning and re-honing their connections.

In your opinion, what is the best-case international travel scenario we can expect for late June, when IT&CM and CTW China 2021 go live?
We think that real changes in terms of travel would only be realised in 4Q of this year at the earliest. At this point, destinations are still grappling with their vaccination challenges, of which resolution is going to be key for outbound travel to resume. Most hope to complete vaccinating their population by year-end with several falling behind on their schedule. Travelling thus far is still limited to travel bubbles, and some are now pilot testing policies to do with shortening or eliminating quarantine requirements, while most others have yet to announce any confirmation on re-opening their borders.

When it’s possible to travel internationally again, where’s the first place you plan to go?
I can’t wait to travel. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was making about 25 trips a year. I do not have a specific destination in mind right now but it would be one that is within an eight-hour flight time from Singapore. Thus, my first few trips would likely be within the Asia-Pacific region before I start venturing longhaul. As to the destination, it all depends on the opportunity presented at that time – such as airline or destination promotions – while taking into consideration the appeal, safety and security of the destination.

This interview was first published by Dragon Trail International here.

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