In Focus
HOTELS & TOURISM | Nathanielle Punay, Singapore

‘Hybrid' events arise as MICE industry adapts in a post-pandemic era

The sector’s recovery will likely be slow as the ‘new normal’ entices major changes.

The meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry is obviously one of the most hard-hit sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has then sparked a domino effect on Singapore’s tourism, hospitality, F&B sectors and tourist-dependent retailers. Although many have already resorted to virtual conferences, some have hinted that the shift is tipped towards a mix of physical and digital.

“Since the outbreak, we found that previously developed technologies no longer meet the needs of clients,” Martin Zhao, chairman & CEO of Sino Elite MICE Services, told Singapore Business Review.

Zhao shared that in 2019, their business saw a 200% jump in turnover compared to the same period in 2018. The start of 2020 was going well for them as sales in January alone reached one-fourth of the overall 2019 sales. Last year, Sino Elite even introduced various solutions, including digital sign-in systems, micro-site construction, cloud interactive games, cloud lucky draw, and cloud albums. Their push in digitalising events led them to have a lot of new clients, Zhao said.

“However, since the outbreak of COVID-19 began in China in February this year, all orders we had confirmed for February, March, and April were delayed or formally canceled, resulting in our company being in the red until now,” Zhao added.

Another firm that saw a major change in operations is MICE tech provider Veemal Gungadin, founder and CEO of the company, recounted how his teams’ roles shifted.

“We had our project management team converted into a customer research team to understand the gaps in the market, and to fully understand customer needs. Our sales team converted into market researchers to understand the market potential and competition. Our marketing team converted into an educational one. There were no more targets about getting leads and numbers. It was all about churning out great, original and thought leadership content that would bring value to customers,” Gungadin stated. His firm also created a new digital event manager (DEM) team.

Now, Sino Elite is working on technologies for cloud conferences and digital conference solutions. ITheir clients would previously invite 300 to 600 people to participate in their physical events, and since everything’s online, the number of viewers can reach more than 1,000, and the cost is only one-tenth of the previous event or even lower.

They have built a small live broadcast room in their premises that can accommodate 10 people and signed agreements with several local hotels to provide off-premises broadcast services in order to continue serving their clients without canceling orders.

However, they still needed to adjust for their cash-strapped clients. Zhao’s company has tailored several cloud conference packages for clients, with discounts up to 70%, and gave some previous clients use their cloud conference live broadcast service for free.

As for, they launched GEVME Live, an all-in-one platform for events management and marketing. Apart from the basic elements such as registration, ticket purchasing, email marketing and pre- and post-event surveys, it can now hold webinars, digital conferences, and an online exhibition, with exhibitors having a 24/7 digital booth where they can have one-on-one meetings with leads.

Adaptation ahead
Both Zhao and Gungadin are expecting Singapore’s MICE industry to evolve, albeit a slow recovery, where events will likely be a mix of physical and digital components. Zhao said that this will likely be boosted once 5G communication comes into play and that the sector may still return to its pre-COVID-19 level as there is no new technology that can replace the operation method of the traditional MICE industry yet.

“From a research we did, we found out that 40% of people would choose not to attend an event physically in October which is four months away from now. It will take time before people feel comfortable in large gatherings again. But it doesn’t mean that events won’t happen in the meantime. The event industry is going to go through a transformation and more events are going to take place online,” Gungadin added.

“Transformation of the MICE industry and business events and the support that will be offered COVID-19 will fundamentally change the way the MICE industry works—from the organisation of events to new safety measures and protocols,” said Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) executive director for exhibitions & conferences Andrew Phua.

In preparation for these hybrid events, Phua stated that the MICE industry should opt to consider contactless interfaces or interactions which could include more voice interfaces and fewer touch screens; augmented and virtual reality solutions to deliver personalised and compelling on-demand content; and IoT solutions to capture, track and analyse visitor and delegate data in real-time.

“This hybridisation of events is likely to take off in a significant way, and some companies have already developed and adopted technologies that may become standard components of future events,” Phua said.

Currently, STB is working with stakeholders and the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) to come up with a playbook to guide the industry on how to leverage technology to deliver events safely and profitably in a post-COVID-19 environment.

The government is also offering to subsidise 80% of costs for Singapore-registered companies looking to leverage technology to redesign and innovate their current business models and processes. STB shared that they will launch the Tourism Transformation Index (TXI) in Q2, a self-diagnostic tool for companies to assess their strengths, identify areas of opportunity and provide recommendations on next steps to take in their digital transformation initiative.

However, now that Singapore prepares to enter Phase 2 of its reopening plan, Phua warns that the activities allowed to resume still depends on the nature of their activities and whether it is practical to implement the necessary safe management measures.

“As we take steps towards embracing what a post-COVID-19 world holds for the MICE industry, we encourage our MICE industry partners to use this downtime to rethink event formats, explore new partnerships and upskill for a post-COVID-19 world. We have to be well positioned and ready to resume business when the time comes,” Phua added.

Despite heavy changes, Phua stated that Singapore’s vibrant business culture, excellent infrastructure and stable government will put the MICE industry in good stead when it is ready for recovery.

“The MICE segment is, and will continue to be, an important tourism driver for Singapore. In the first three quarters of 2019, STB welcomed 1.8 million BTMICE arrivals, which contributed $3.2b in tourism receipts,” Phua added. 

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