Re-imagining in-person events

As in-person business events resume in certain destinations, organisers and marketing specialists are realising a different approach to audience engagement is needed amid a pandemic. S Puvaneswary finds out how three business events delivered their in-person experiences differently and safely.

Mobile World Congress
The world’s largest mobile ecosystem event, Mobile World Congress (MWC) Barcelona, was held this year with an in-person audience, and it successfully attracted more than 20,000 attendees from 165 countries to the physical show floor.

TelcoDR’s massive stand at Mobile World Congress featured a restaurant, two coffee bars, 20 meeting rooms and a space for daily high-profile concerts

One of the most prominent exhibitors at the event was public cloud transformation specialist, TelcoDR, which took a large stand spanning more than 6,000m2 of floor space.

Branded as Cloud City, the TelcoDR stand comprised a full-service restaurant, two coffee bars, and 20 meeting rooms. A highlight for event attendees was a series of daily concerts headlined by famous artistes, such as Bon Jovi.

Jason Greenman, CEO and founder at Akommo, the specialist hired by TelcoDR to create guerilla marketing activities and assist with general on-site event management, told TTGmice that all activities took attendee safety into consideration. For instance, tables at the restaurant were spaced out, and each was large enough to allow four guests per table with safe distancing between them. At the concerts, guests had their face masks on and social distancing was enforced throughout.

Tickets to the concerts were controlled and awarded to attendees who participated in the Cloud City Quest mobile games and earned high scores. The organiser also had an app which gave them a real-time reading of the number of concert attendees at any given time.

Greenman advised event organisers looking at creating outstanding in-person experiences during the pandemic to be brave and take calculated risks that abide by local health and safety protocols.

“While many brands are still sticking to virtual, those that invest in live events are leveraging a massive opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Focus on entertainment, dining and networking – these three experiences are still much more rewarding when done in person than virtually,” he said.

Arabian Travel Market 2021

Arabian Travel Market 2021
The in-person Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2021 took place from May 16 to 19 in Dubai, the UAE, attracting some 21,685 attendees from 110 countries.

Being the first global travel and tourism in-person exhibition to be held since the Covid outbreak made the opening extra special for industry stakeholders, opined Danielle Curtis, exhibitor director Middle East, Arabian Travel Market, who added that the event played a pivotal role in connecting the industry across the globe.

Curtis acknowledged that organising this year’s event was far more complex, which made it more stressful as compared to previous years.

“We were constantly in close contact with the venue and the Dubai government, while liaising with other show stakeholders at the same time. It was a fluid situation and we had to adapt quickly to the changing guidelines across many countries, not just UAE,” she recalled.

“In terms of operations, in keeping with density restrictions of one person per 4m2 meant reshaping the event floorplan, widening the aisles, adapting to increased sanitisation measures, adding traffic flow signage, and appointing health and safety marshals who were dispersed across the event throughout build-up and during the show’s open days.”

ATM 2021 abided by local government safety requirements as well as Dubai World Trade Centre’s (DWTC) own health and safety guidelines. The DWTC team implemented a range of measures including an enhanced cleaning regime, improved air circulation, multiple hand sanitiser stations, and safe distancing procedures.

Curtis said: “ATM 2021 now has a template for other major events to run safely. All ATM 2021 stakeholders as well as international travel and tourism professionals in general wanted the show to succeed, so that it could be used as a shining example for other destinations. After all, they were very keen to get back to business and to meet face-to-face. However, they needed a credible international standard-bearer, and this is where the UAE stepped up to the plate.”

Recognising that networking was an important aspect of this event, ATM 2021 carved out networking lounges where pre-scheduled meetings were conducted in a safe environment and with distancing protocols in place.

The annual ATM party, reserved for mainly sponsors and buyers, was hosted at Palace Downtown Dubai. The event was held outdoors and facilitated networking while abiding by safe procedures.

59th ICCA Congress

59th ICCA Congress
The 59th ICCA Congress in Kaohsiung, held from November 1 to 3, 2020, went down in history as the congress’s first hybrid format. ICCA members were able to choose to attend the live event in Kaohsiung or any of eight regional hubs located across five continents. Alternatively, they were able to join virtually from the comfort of their homes.

The in-person event in Kaohsiung attracted some 300 attendees who were ICCA members, association executives, industry partners, and hospitality students.

Adam Milczarek, senior business development manager of GIS Group, the PCO for the Kaohsiung proceedings, said it was more challenging to deliver an in-person event during a pandemic, as it included paying keen attention to official updates of the pandemic and ensuring that attendees were protected, engaged and entertained.

The three-day programme in Kaohsiung was designed to avoid crowds and bottlenecks during the sessions. Said Milczarek: “We did not want a situation where we ask attendees to physically distance themselves and then put them in situations where that is not possible. It would have ruined the experience.”

To drive engagement, GIS Group asked ICCA colleagues from around the world to record short messages that were then edited into clips displayed on the main stage. Additionally, virtual participants were invited to take part in an innovative song composition with the in-person audience in Kaohsiung.

“It was probably the first time in the history of business events that a live audience, a live band and virtual participants were able to write and sing a catchy tune together,” he remarked.

To feed in-person attendees, GIS Group arranged for a served meal service, skipping the usual buffet setup. For this to work, ample staff and serving stations were mobilised. Without having to queue for food, delegates had more time to enjoy their meals and socialise with peers.

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