APAC’s appetite for events continues to grow but formats will evolve

While face-to-face business events have gradually returned, wide-sweeping changes caused by the pandemic will challenge event organisers and planners to rise up and meet evolving customer needs across different event formats.

As life returns to the business events industry, Kai Hattendorf, managing director of UFI, said stakeholders must find a balance between physical and virtual events moving forward – especially as the digital components of events are here to stay.

Panellists at the SMF X IBTM Wired session: (second from left) UFI’s Kai Hattendorf, STB’s Andrew Phua, GEVME’s Veemal Gungadin, and PCMA’s Karen Bolinger (beamed in)

Hattendorf had shared his views at this morning’s SMF (Singapore MICE Forum) X IBTM Wired session, Reimagining Business Events – Through Covid-19 and Beyond Navigate.

“It will also have to be rebalanced according to the needs of the customers in different parts of the world,” he added.

“It’s significant to note that most of our events going forward in this region will have a hybrid component, but how long that appetite will last for is a different question, due to the diversity of our region,” said fellow speaker Karen Bolinger, managing director Asia Pacific, PCMA.

Veemal Gungadin, CEO of GEVME, who was also on the panel, agreed that the digital components are here to stay, as attendees are seeing value, sponsors and exhibitors are starting to extract value, while event organisers are learning how to achieve the best ROIs.

He shared: “A company named Explori studied the NPS (net promotor score) of events throughout 2020, (and found that) satisfaction scores were the same for both physical and virtual events.”

On a broader scale, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is trying to strike a balance in how digital enablers will work for B2B events, and decide if a new hybrid or sustainable business model is needed in the long run, shared executive director Andrew Phua.

Panellists also pointed out that deeper community engagement is crucial moving forward, regardless of the event format – physical, digital, or hybrid.

Citing an example, Hattendorf said tradeshow attendees in China are “totally focused on the physical experience while they are there” but supplement the experience with their smartphones as they navigate the showfloor.

“We need to discuss how to evolve that opportunity (of connecting buyers and sellers) beyond the showfloor, not just pre- and post-show, but all year round,” noted Hattendorf.

Bolinger underlined the fact that the business events industry will not return to the past, and face-to-face interactions must be reimagined.

“(What online meetings have shown is that) we all can listen, but what we really want to do is exchange those ideas and thoughts, so new formats will probably have to have a format that would allow more of these meaningful (conversations) and knowledge exchanges,” Bolinger stressed. She added that if customers could obtain value by sitting behind a screen, there would be no reason for them to turn up at a face-to-face event.

Hattendorf said: “If we’re able to convey the (joy of meeting face-to-face) to our customers, it’s an additional incentive to get them travelling again as soon as possible.”

Phua relayed that he experienced zoom fatigue from the many virtual meetings last year, but one memorable virtual event stood out with its multisensory experience – it had South American music playing during the event and local food delivered to attendees’ home.

The industry also needs better data management and standards for planners and organisers to align to, panellists urged.

“We need currencies to show the value of digital interaction, so that we can monetise that show and then charge for the value. (But we need to) find an answer for this as an industry,” stated Hattendorf.

Bolinger concurred: “(Without data), I think that’s why sometimes it’s a challenge for us as an industry, as we don’t get taken as seriously as some of the other sectors. Data is so, so important for us going forward as it will start to influence the shape of our business going forward.”

Gungadin pointed out that everyone “has their own definitions of what engagement is and how it can be measured”, but for sponsors, that does not change how much business or leads are generated. He added that it would help if UFI and PCMA could develop a definition of success and ROI for hybrid events.

“With real-time statistics and information, we can bring events to the next level. (For example), we can also look at bespoke experiences and look into doing something more interesting or engaging after event hours, such as a virtual fishing tour,” Phua proferred.

The panel also discussed talent acquisition, ideas and capabilities, as the whole digital transformation process during this pandemic has revealed an urgent need for individuals with technology skills such as broadcasting, strategic narrative building, content production, data management and cybersecurity.

Hattendorf opined: “We really need to sell the upside of our industry to make it attractive. Whether it’s a G20 summit, a local tradeshow, or Formula One, we (the events industry) make it happen.”

While Phua added that it’s “good to look at ideas outside of the MICE industry”, Gungadin and Bolinger stressed the need to hire versatile individuals who possess critical thinking skills and an ability to handle crisis management.

Gungadin added: “Reimagining talent has to come from the mindset and willingness to change, which has to come from the organisation.”

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