The Covid-19 pandemic has moved the business events industry forward in many positive ways, reflect Rachel AJ Lee and Karen Yue.
Vaccination rates around the world are rising and borders are slowly reopening, but it is not yet crystal clear how things will pan out for the business events industry in the near future.
However, what is clear so far is how the business events industry has been able to evolve for the greater benefit of stakeholders and event attendees. Here are some trends that will continue to shape the business events scene.
Forward with technology
An evolution is sweeping through Asia’s business events venues as they race to capture online and hybrid events and win the confidence of event owners and organisers.
The International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney in Australia was among the first in the region to lead that charge, having launched its virtual event offerings in March 2020 when the pandemic was still in its early passage through the world. These offerings continued to evolve, and today the venue boasts ICC Sydney Connect, which promises end-to-end virtual and hybrid event solutions.
Broadcasting studios and technical capabilities to support online/in-person events are diffusing into the hotel arena too, as hybrid events grow in popularity. Both Marriott International and Hilton claim that most of their hotels in Asia-Pacific are now hybrid event-ready.
New hotels coming onto the scene today are equipped with facilities that support hybrid event needs. DoubleTree Putrajaya, which launched in October, is one such example.
Venues’ move to take on hybrid event-ready technology and infrastructure is motivated by the expectation that even as in-person events resume, there will still be attendees who are unable to travel and be there in person.
“As we navigate through these unchartered times for businesses, this is a perfect solution that will allow large-scale events to continue without compromising the safety and well-being of guests, ” commented Mike Williamson, general manager, Conrad Centennial Singapore.
“Event professionals should also prepare for new formats. While everyone is talking about hybrid, it is not a well-defined single type of meeting. While we figure out the new definitions and business models, virtual and in-person events will remain and continue to develop. The key will be in knowing how to address them all and expanding our expertise accordingly,” said Martin Boyle, CEO of IAPCO.
Content is king
Exposure to numerous well-run virtual events throughout the global lockdown has raised people’s expectations of quality content. They may even want to continue tuning in from home should they be unable to travel to events in the future.
As such, a hybrid or virtual event with engaging educational content and networking opportunities would go far in the current climate.
This is supported by the 2021 Global Meetings and Events Forecast from American Express Meetings & Events, which states: “From a programme design standpoint, the challenge of keeping people’s attention once they have logged in must be considered – for example, through shorter overall length, more focus on content, or ongoing activities such as polls and breakout room discussions.”
PCMA strategic business consultant, Karen Bolinger, noted: “There’s a lot of free stuff going on online, so planners have to think about how their virtual event can provide a compelling story backed by solid content to engage, and keep your delegates on your page. Event planners have to entertain the audience, and treat it like a TV show with breaks and interludes.
“Most importantly, content is king. If your content is solid, people will pay (to attend).”
At PCMA’s Convening Asia Pacific: Global Recovery Forum in February 2021, curating content was the top priority, and the event’s content streams were based on specific insights from PCMA research.
IT&CM Asia and CTW Asia-Pacific, Asia’s leading MICE and corporate travel event, also emphasises compelling knowledge content helmed by regional and global thought-leaders as part of its business-focused and networking programme. Aside from PCMA, other content partners include ICCA, IAPCO and SITE.
“Great content comes in many formats. We’ve found success in curated sessions that draw on attendee’s active participation, as well as a best-in-industry incentive scheme that rewards their time with us,” said Cheryl Tan, head of events at TTG Asia Media.
Ben Gosman, managing director of Netherlands-based Free Style Events, who has been participating in virtual trade events, observed: “The fight for the eyeball is crucial, which can be lost easily online due to the many options and possibilities.”
“There’s a lot of free stuff going on online, so planners have to think about how their virtual event can provide a compelling story backed by solid content to engage, and keep your delegates on your page.”
– Karen Bolinger, strategic business consultant, PCMA
Attention on sustainability
Business events are, without a doubt, a major economic driver but it is also a significant generator of waste through excess food and unwanted marketing collateral and souvenirs. Fortunately, recognition of this weakness is growing and many venues in Asia-Pacific are doing their best to strive for better sustainability credentials.
One example is the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), which unveiled a five-year sustainability strategy earlier in 2021.
MCEC’s sustainability manager, Samantha Ferrier said the venue has a target of net-zero emissions by 2030. “We are working to eliminate problematic and unnecessary single-use plastics, divert 90 per cent of waste from landfills by 2025, and be completely powered by renewable electricity by 2028,” she shared.
“At the same time, we will contribute towards increasing Victoria’s biodiversity, habitats and ecosystem health by 2025, continue to source sustainably and support OzHarvest to rescue and redistribute food to people in need.”
Demonstrating the need to address sustainability issues broadly, beyond environmental impacts, the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau launched in July 2021 the Sustainability Experience in Tokyo initiative, which introduces the city’s rich culture and history in a thought-provoking way. Eleven programmes are built around nature, food, crafts and physical activities, and are designed to contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
The latest sustainability initiative in Asia-Pacific’s MICE industry is SITE Thailand Chapter’s partnership with the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) to host the SITE Thailand M&I Sustainability Advocate Project. It called on 146 young leaders to develop new sustainability practices for the meetings and incentives sector. The project culminated on October 15, where 17 teams of young individuals aged 17 to 25 presented their ideas at the virtual M&I Sustainability Forum.
Supawan Teerarat, TCEB’s senior vice president – MICE capability and innovation, said TCEB aims to develop “solid industry practices”, as well as “empower the young generation to step up and create new solutions” for the business events industry.
Future-ready MICE workforce
The industry has been using the travel downtime to rebuild itself, by reviewing and refining business models and processes, and reskilling and upskilling its workforce.
Recognising that upskilling and reskilling have become critical conditions for business events professionals to get through the current downturn, and well into the altered future of corporate gatherings in a post-Covid-19 world, PCMA has expanded its support for members’ education.
In an interview with TTGmice, Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of PCMA, revealed that the association of 7,000 global business events strategists has provided almost US$1 million in scholarships to help members in 2020.
Similarly, IAPCO set up a virtual training platform webEDGE in September 2020, aimed at equipping Malaysia’s professionals with the highest standards of project management skills for conference and event delivery, and to provide Malaysia with a competitive advantage when bidding for international events.
Tan Mei Phing, director of business events, Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau, expects “a surge of events in Malaysia in the coming years” and urged event professionals to seize the opportunity to arm themselves with skills that will help them be ready for future demand.
Having more certified homegrown PCOs, she added, is imperative to the growth of Malaysia’s conference and congress sector.
The Philippines is also taking a serious view on levelling up MICE professionalism. Developing skilled local tourism professionals through the education system is at the core of the Philippine Department of Tourism’s (DOT) five-year industry manpower development plan.
DOT secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat virtually launched The Philippine Tourism Human Capital Development Plan for 2021-2025, designed to ensure the steady supply of trained manpower and to address challenges facing tourism human capital development.
Thailand has similarly ramped up local business events capability in preparation for future events.
“This year, we’re producing e-learning courses in MICE with various themes such as incentive travel, professional and sustainable event organisation, community development and English for MICE,” detailed Supawan.