In most regions, face-to-face events have returned to pre-pandemic levels, with hybrid and virtual formats all but disappearing as companies have realised the value, once again, of meeting in person. Inflation is putting strain on budgets around the world, causing many to reduce the size or duration of events or look to alternative venues for cost containment.
Political and financial challenges remain concerns for some, yet overall the sentiment is optimistic looking ahead to 2024. Renewed focus on engagement and customised attendee experiences mean teams are looking for fresh ways to be creative, often with the help of third-party agencies and vendors.
Here’s a look at how the meetings and events business is evolving, in particular the Asia-Pacific region, according to BCD M&E What’s Trending 2024 report.
Tradeshows, large conferences and meetings, and incentive travel returned in spades in 1Q, contributing to a strong resurgence of meetings and events business in this region in 2023. This was particularly evident in China, which was the final market to relax border restrictions and, consecutively, travel and meeting restrictions. This move had a domino effect in Hong Kong, where outbound incentive business has returned, along with Singapore. We’ve also witnessed the growth of venue search needs by markets and resources dedicated to solutions. India was the fastest-growing market for BCD M&E worldwide, and we’ll introduce a full-fledged incentives team there in 2024.
The positive growth was not without challenges, however. Looking ahead, spend is a top concern. Clients are cautiously optimistic across industry verticals and offerings yet looking at flat budgets for 2024, and costs are increasing across the board. In addition to overheads, costs in the meetings and events ecosystem (such as travel, hotels, F&B and event spaces) have skyrocketed. In some cases, we are seeing reorganisations and/or consolidations of internal roles in marketing, events and procurement. Resources are a continual challenge, with agencies poaching talent through unsustainable offers. The cost of doing business with agencies has also increased, with higher fees and third-party supplier costs.
New guidelines from India’s National Medical Council that prohibit doctors from participating in any seminar, workshop or conference that involves direct or indirect sponsorship from pharma companies or the allied health sector have resulted in market-wide cancellations for some local pharma healthcare provider events. In China, the pharma industry is seeing a significant drop in HCP-related programs as the country cracks down on anti-corruption campaigns targeting the industry.
For 2024, we anticipate overall growth in the Asia-Pacific market, especially in Singapore and India and within the incentive and event solutions verticals. On the meetings management front, further consolidation is expected as clients push for more strategic spend and more experienced SMM customers look to optimize their programs through previous data.
Nearly all (90 per cent or higher) of meetings in the APAC region have returned to face-to-face, and planners are enthusiastic about engaging attendees more than before. Revenue is increasing with the high demand for in-person meetings and events, yet high volume has strained regional hotel supply. Hotel rates have increased more than 30 per cent on average, and availability is a major hurdle. We are slowly seeing a return to the traditional events calendar, which usually includes a kickoff and mid-year hero event supported by smaller face-to-face engagements throughout the year. With this we are seeing reduced pent-up demand for venues which is also helping stabilise the cost of third-party suppliers such as accommodation, airfares and venues.
ROI and accessibility are not as much of a focus here as in other regions around the world. In Asia-Pacific, top priorities for leaders include returning to face-to-face events immediately, bringing the right audiences together to reconnect and ignite the desire to grow again.
Across the Australian and New Zealand markets, we’re also looking at how events play a role in staff retention. With soaring inflation rates over the last two years, stagnant wage growth and low unemployment rates, employees are changing roles to increase their salary packages. As such, customers are using face-to-face events, reward trips and team building experiences to help retain top talent and recreate company culture.
Looking at teams across the region, having a diverse balance of age groups is important to reestablish clear career paths, yet some markets are finding the younger generations do not want to join the business events and travel industry.
Many companies in Asia Pacific are looking to rebuild their teams with greater agency support, especially in India. More than ever, businesses are choosing to outsource to professionals to handle specific daily tasks, and to help with leverage on volume, buying power and pricing. Most markets in Asia Pacific are challenged with a lack of event managers in the market with many leaving the industry due to Covid. In 2H2023, we are starting to see candidates returning to the M&E industry as well as attracting new talent with the push for more technology-based solutions.
The state of business transformation in the region is varied. In Hong Kong, the trend is going back to how things were before (i.e., a return to incentives). Singapore, on the other hand, is seeing transformation with flexibility in selecting the scope of services, and for Australia, transformation is about operational efficiency via technology automation and process optimisation. India is facing general elections in 2024, which usually leads to business stagnation.
Like other regions around the world, inflation is impacting prices for Asia-Pacific meetings and events, yet it’s been accounted for in plans already, so it’s not as much of an issue. Some clients are containing costs by pushing suppliers to give them better prices, having more, smaller events instead of large events, and offering reward trips instead of salary increases. Because demand is much higher than supply, however, suppliers tend to have the upper hand in negotiations.
A copy of the full report can be found here.