Searching for the silver lining in every cloud

Alan Pryor, chairman of Business Events Council Malaysia, discusses the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, what support the industry needs during such dire times, and how upskilling and upgrading of skillsets will be crucial in the near future.

Winston Churchill once said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. With every crisis, there lies opportunity. Where do you think are the opportunities for the business events sector at this point in time?
The opportunity that comes with every crisis is the space and window to re-invent, refresh and inspire, and to do so we have to unlearn, adapt, and be resilient in coping with a crisis. The pandemic propelled us into a future scenario that was already starting to emerge with the Industrial Revolution 4.0, and its impact on the advancement of the new world of work and social lifestyle and engagement.

For business events, new opportunities lie in the expansion of our market reach, engaging fresh audiences, developing new products and services, undertaking future-proof business model innovation, upskilling, cross-skilling and adapting our skills sets and workforce to the new standards and demands and to become more data-savvy.

A silver lining of crisis is the knowledge and learnings gained from managing and coping with it, and in itself an opportunity to improve on future crisis management and scenario planning.

With the current suspension of business events activities, what kind of support does the industry need from the government in order to retain jobs as well as ensure survival?
Business events is a major industry sector of the visitor economy that is reliant on the entire supply chain that supports meetings and events, and is currently dealing with two important scenarios that need to run in parallel, namely the resumption and the recovery of the business events industry.

Our appeal to the government is to ensure the resumption of business events as soon as possible and to prioritise continuity to build recovery. By expediting the vaccine rollout, we are confident this will greatly assist to revitalise our sector as an important economic driver.

We need the government to provide an advanced alert system to enable us to plan more effectively for re-opening, and the national recovery plan is indicative of this. We are committed to supporting all efforts so we can rebound and restore market confidence in Malaysia.

Government programmes or initiatives to streamline event permit application procedures, tax exemptions for utility costs, job retention and sustainability, supporting grants for events and to initiate and maintain a consistent collection of data on the national business events market, will be most welcomed by the industry.

What is Business Events Council Malaysia (BECM) doing to help the industry get back on its feet?
BECM has been leading the industry’s government advocacy and lobbying efforts throughout the Covid-19 pandemic which are focused on industry advocacy and lobbying to drive collective effort for the safe re-opening of our sector.

We are working collectively with our alliance partners to drive safe certification adoption, provide shared information on best practices and placing a great deal of focus on the development of dedicated communication to engage our target audiences and to maintain market presence so we are fully prepared with a safe and accessible business events proposition for Malaysia. This will ensure we are well prepared once domestic, regional and global travel commences.

Our strategy is aligned to the National Recovery Plan set out by the government and we are working with Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau to promote Malaysia’s market presence and to continually uphold our stringent SOPs, consistently demonstrating the industry’s capabilities to deliver safe, professional, regulated and successful meetings and events.

We are also up-keeping our engagement with strategic partners’ industry associations through collaboration and partnerships in advocating and implementing stringent compliance to deliver a “Safe Malaysia” business events destination proposition. We fully support and are highly encouraged by the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme, as this will lead us towards a much more positive reputation as a safe destination as we look to the world to visit and re-engage with Malaysia.

But it has said that the government does not understand the importance of business events. What is BECM doing to change this?
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a great catalyst to build industry collaboration and solidarity. We have to sing with one voice and drive engagement with the government in a consistent and collective manner.

Our aim is to factually and objectively demonstrate the value of the business events industry and its contribution to the economic and social development of the country, and we are consistently advocating and initiating data collection that informs and justifies the importance of our industry sector.

We have been well-supported by industry and mainstream media to help us communicate vital and relevant information that can inform and build awareness of our industry. Managing a large-scale event such as the running of a Vaccine Centre is a very powerful way for us to build our communication interface with the government, demonstrate our capabilities as venues and reinforce our value as important social and economic infrastructure assets.

What do you think are some major trends expected to shape the business events industry in Malaysia over the next five years?
It will be a case of adapt or become irrelevant. We will certainly need to respond proactively to growing competition and have a sustained market presence. We have to be willing to evolve our products and services and adapt to a technology-driven world and apply these solutions to meet client needs and wants.

Our workforce and organisational structures will be re-defined and new business models will continue to emerge. We envisage many collaborative partnerships across the supply chain and new models of engagement with existing and new audiences with high expectations on experiential and interactive content that is delivered not only face to face but virtually as well. We also know that data will become a vital business intelligence tool and will drive business decision-making.

One cannot ignore individuals’ and communities’ growing expectations on and commitment to business and social sustainability and organisations will have to demonstrate and engage more actively to ensure they remain adaptive, resilient and responsive to meet the needs of the ever-changing and emerging world of work and social life.

What new skills are needed by professional event organisers in a post-Covid-19 world?
Many of us had to adapt to remote working life and re-evaluate our business process and policies to adapt to technology, automation and sustainability. This progression began before the Covid-19 pandemic and the new world of work requires different skills sets and mindsets to thrive in a digital and technological environment. The typical office set-up and layout will certainly change, event planning design and execution will require new skills, business model innovation will require new skillsets and the content of professional development tools and training required to meet these demands will evolve too.

We are experiencing a different engagement culture and a stronger emphasis on social investment and sustainability. Skills development is not only focused on tasks and job roles but on managing and incorporating mental and emotional health and resilience. These changes will create new roles and change traditional organisational structures.

Understanding the value of data and its influence as a business intelligence tool means skills in objective and strategic management of information and communication through new and emerging engagement platforms.

Professionals will need to be more connected to where the future is going than maintaining the traditional skillsets of the past. There will be a level of integration as acquired knowledge and experience will continue to influence the value proposition of the future workforce.

What keeps you awake at night?
For the entire industry, no one has endured such strife even after many major world disasters of the past. For many, nothing in our lifetime has come close to dealing with the pandemic and there is still no end in sight.

We, as an industry, are concerned about how we manage to keep our staff employed? How can we recover from little to no business for almost 18 months now, and how quickly can recovery happen?

The timeline is fluid and ever-changing so we really cannot safely predict when and how recovery will begin, and how quickly will we be able to return to a previous level of business operation and normality.

So far, Covid-19 has mutated and had second, third and even fourth ‘waves’ causing more and extended lockdowns. Not knowing what is in store for us makes any kind of planning extremely challenging, and not knowing what is coming down the track keeps us awake at night. The unknown is a very difficult and arduous path to navigate!

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