Setting the tempo

Chien Ee Yeh, president of RX Asia Pacific, is optimistic about the recovery of the business events industry in both Singapore and Asia-Pacific. He shares how the rebranding and refocusing of business strategies will help RX gear up for the return of pre-pandemic-sized events

In-person vs hybrid/virtual – which do you think will come out top? Or do you think they will be complementary to each other?
In-person events have always been our customers’ top choice. Nothing can replace the connection created by face-to-face interactions. We believe that in-person interactions enrich one’s experience at an event. From the excitement and curiosity filling the atmosphere in the event halls and the buzzing sounds of meaningful conversations, to the deeper connection felt when directly engaging and interacting with like-minded individuals who share a similar interest – these were all deeply missed during the pandemic and simply not replicable in the digital space.

However, we also recognise that the technology that enabled virtual events can enhance the experience and inclusivity of in-person events.

One of our most recent events, Asia TV Forum & Market 2022 (ATF) in Singapore, returned as a full in-person event; the last was held in 2019. We made it a point to build the event with a hybrid element to enable connections, especially for our overseas friends who could not join us physically.

With this, we retained ATF Online+ for the 2022 edition, a digital platform designed to support B2B networking and matchmaking sessions for the entertainment content community, particularly buyers and sellers. Through ATF Online+, attendees were able to easily connect with a wider network of exhibitors, as well as speakers for insights or more information beyond the duration of the in-person edition.

ATF 2022 reflects how in-person events and virtual platforms can complement one another, with the latter helping to maintain momentum even after the event. This kind of online offering used to be a “nice-to-have” element but is now almost a “must-have” for all RX events.

What are your projections for the Singapore market, seeing that it has picked up pace pretty quickly?
Singapore is well-positioned to bounce back as early as end-2023 to early 2024. In the first three-quarters of 2022, the nation had already seen a steady growth of events, charting around 125 MICE events supported by Singapore Tourism Board (STB) so far. For instance, the Republic played host to the recent Singapore Airshow and ATF 2022 events, which are a testament to Singapore’s capabilities to hold high-profile events and accommodate changing norms in the post-pandemic era.

This imbues trust in event organisers and travellers to consider Singapore as their destination of choice and reaffirms the nation’s position as the region’s hub in the business events industry.

Support from STB is also crucial – which is seen in their efforts to galvanise the industry with the help of partnerships with other key players, as well as refreshing their incentive programmes to attract delegates, and help drive recovery in the sector to pick up quickly.

How did RX tide through the pandemic, waiting patiently for the return of in-person events and how did you hit the ground running to meet Singapore’s business events needs then?
The pandemic was a challenging time, no doubt. However, we took advantage of the market downturn to review our portfolio of events, which saw us assessing the potential of each one of them, and ultimately determining the return of events that can continue to support the business development of our customers or can create value for the communities we serve. This allowed us to refocus our business strategy and allocate our resources to the areas that will add value to that of our customer, and the wider business events industry.

We also rebranded into RX Global from Reed Exhibitions. This refresh came with a new brand positioning – to create all-year-round communities that support businesses and help their customers grow. To do this, we leveraged our legacy as experts in building flagship events and enhanced our portfolio of offerings with our capabilities in data and technologies, which enabled us to broaden our business and meet the changing needs of our customers in the industry.

For example, the past few years have seen us rolling a slew of RX digital tools. One such innovation is our Exhibitor Dashboard which provides exhibitors with a quantifiable, at-a-glance view of their performance before, during and after each event, and actionable insights to help them get the most out of the events.

At the same time, the market downturn during the first two years of the pandemic gave us the opportunity to focus more on communicating and listening to our customers to understand their needs better. RX Global rolled out the Covid-19 Customer Needs and Mindset Barometer, which helped us to track our customers evolving attitudes to physical and digital events. This guided our efforts to upgrade our event offerings and technology platforms to meet their changing and dynamic needs – for webinars, online content, virtual meetings, and contactless technology.

As the world is reaching a new state of normalcy post-pandemic, RX has evolved our research study to determine what our customers need from our in-person events and digital platforms going forward. We found that the demand for in-person events among our customers remains strong, and informed by the insights collected, we were ready to provide them with the new services and product offerings they need.

Aside from Singapore, which markets in Asia-Pacific hold the most promise for business events and why?
Due to the impact of the pandemic, China’s business events sector, a major contributor to the global business events industry, continues to experience ups and downs. We think the domestic-focused events would recover faster as they get out of the pandemic. In fact, China’s domestic market is huge; 70-80 per cent of the large-scale events held locally are designed to meet the needs of the domestic market.

Other Asia-Pacific markets, including Singapore, have shown clear signs of recovery. There also seems to be a promising outlook for business events in South Korea. Recently, they lifted all travel-related restrictions and a clear promotion plan to attract 30 million foreign visitors by 2027.

Things are also picking up for Thailand’s MICE industry, which is forecast to reach US$12.2 billion by 2027. Given the recovering economy, the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau has announced the rollout of its plan to attract more business events and travellers to the country.

What are three industry trends you see in the market now?
Digital technology
Digitalisation and digital tools have helped exhibitors stand out from the crowd. Digital technology helps to boost the overall presence of participating brands, as visitors can now view exhibitor offerings in a centralised online platform on demand. The increasing use of 3D technology also allows visitors, including potential buyers, to view and analyse products in more detail, even when they are not present physically on the show floor.

Virtual and hybrid events have also shown us that with digital technology, connections can be made and nurtured beyond the event floor, allowing exhibitors more opportunities to understand the needs of their prospects better. On top of networking and making connections, technology provides exhibitors with digital tools that give them access to insightful data on event visitors, enabling them to target buyers more effectively. It also helps generate quality leads to drive business outcomes and quantify the return on their investment.

We have also seen the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in events which has enabled organisers to better understand the needs and behaviours of event participants, providing them with an enriched event experience in return. This is something that we have also implemented ourselves.

In the past few years, organisers have started leveraging AI’s power to cull through and analyse useful data, providing them with the insights to effectively offer recommendations to attendees. This spans across product and exhibitor recommendations, conference stream suggestions, matchmaking recommendations based on similar interests, and more.

Beyond participants, the insights gathered can also be useful for us stakeholders, given its rich capability to inform how future events or activities can be improved for an elevated experience.

Sustainability will rise to the top of the agenda for the business events industry in 2023 and beyond. In Singapore for instance, STB has set targets for Singapore’s business events industry to achieve net zero by 2050, rolling out a roadmap for event organisers to help them progress towards this goal.

On the other hand, RX Global are committed to achieving that by 2040 instead. Our field of focus would then be to lay out sustainability standards, opt for venues that have been certified as sustainable, work with our key suppliers closely and start tracking our waste to see how we can reduce our carbon footprint and waste of resources.

Content that resonates
Content has always been a key differentiator for events and in 2023, this will be even more crucial. As brands renew their strategies post-pandemic and brace themselves for the anticipated economic headwinds ahead, we expect customers to be more selective of their investments. Events in 2023 must provide a holistic experience to participating companies – from the fruitful connections made to the incisive thought leadership shared. Organisers will not only need to ensure the event content resonates with the target audience but also have the means to direct the outcomes for participants. This is where technology can help by providing the right data and insights.

What is on your to-do list for 2023?
First, RX is harnessing our focus on adjacent industries – markets vertically or horizontally related to the events we run today. We then look to venturing out to different growing industries and evaluate new launches that have been put on hold due to the pandemic – but first, we need to understand a variety of things – how can we better manage the industry portfolio, what are the megatrends surrounding the industry, and how can we launch tradeshows in those sectors.

As we’re in the business of building businesses, we’re constantly figuring out ways to enhance the experiences we deliver to the communities we serve. With Singapore’s gradual return to pre-pandemic-sized events, we’re hoping to enhance the experience for exhibitors through our digital offerings, such as statistics and dashboards as well as business lead scanning. Armed with these tools and insights, exhibitors can seamlessly connect with their visitors, generate quality leads for their businesses and prolong the engagement in a targeted manner.

What is your business outlook for 2023?
We’re optimistic but are staying vigilant with our business decisions. There is a lot of confidence in the business events sector to do the heavy lifting when it comes to the post-pandemic recovery of the tourism industry in Singapore.

However, average hotel room rates hit a 14-year high in September 2022, and airfares are expected to rise by 25 per cent in 2023. These developments heavily affect the consideration of cost for travellers and could potentially be a hurdle for the industry. So, we must assess other factors in the tourism industry as we are still weathering unpredictable times – at least in the short- to medium-term.

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