HONG KONG - The recent Online Global Forum, the first of its kind organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) on 24 June, drew over 4,000 tourism industry representatives, journalists and academics.
Entitled, Beyond COVID-19: Global Tourism’s New Normal, attendees learned about the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on travel, how the industry should respond, and the trends to expect as people begin travelling again in the post-pandemic period.
In his opening remarks, HKTB chairman Dr Y K Pang, emphasised the importance of restoring consumer confidence. “As an industry, our central mission must be to give every traveller the confidence and reassurance that their trip is safe from start to finish,” he said.
“Our co-operation must cross geographical and business boundaries. We must pool our knowledge and expertise and draw on our collective ingenuity to navigate the challenges that lie ahead of us.”
One of the speakers, Mr Kai Hattendorf, managing director and CEO The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI), congratulated HKTB for staging the forum, and stated, “The exhibition and conference industry are really key to economic recovery on the other side of COVID-19”.
He pointed out that while shows are not running, the impact is not just felt within the events industry itself.
“For every show floor and every trade show that is not taking place, tens of thousands of deals are not signed. The order books in industries are emptying and it is vital we get back into operations.”
UFI has released a global framework of actions and regulations to help keep people safe, communicate best practices and emerging standards, and assist industry partners when discussing with local authorities.
He emphasised the resilience of the exhibition industry and its ability to adapt to globalisation, digitisation and external threats, including the previous impact of 9/11, saying, “COVID-19 will also lead us to new procedures, new standards and new processes.”
Face-to-face vs digital
Attendees to HKTB’s forum were left richer in information and insights, but not richer in the power of networking, or the warmth of relationships, rekindled or newly made, as they might have been at the usual annual HKTB Tourism Review attended in person by professionals from around the world.
On the forum, Mr Hattendorf highlighted the importance of events in person in particular, for bringing people face-to-face at meetings, conferences and also exhibitions.
“Clicks online do not discuss deals and eyeballs don’t sign orders and IP addresses don’t stay in hotels overnight,” he summarised.
He mentioned, as a recent example, a live commerce session at the Canton Fair held by a building materials trading house, where it was reported that around 150,000 viewers tuned in, but the session resulted in only three enquiries.
“Digital alone is just not suitable,” he said.
Merging face-to-face with screen-to-screen
He argued for the power of hybrid events, mixing technology with attendance.
“We are seeing an acceleration of a trend that has already been around in the events industry for quite a while with the marriage of the event on-site, with services online, during, before and after the respective event,” he said.
“It’s all about bringing together the onsite event with the online dialogue. In essence, we will become more digital with conference content being accessible on demand, with all your matchmaking communities and many other elements.”
He emphasised, however, that much of the magic of the events industry really comes from the magic made when people meet for real.
“The main element that is driving businesses, that is driving industries, that is driving societies to succeed is, and remains, the direct exchange and the face-to-face meeting. Take this away and your connections lose. They peter out as they are not renewed, as they are not recharged, as they are not refreshed.
“The unique value of face-to-face is that it re-energises, it recharges, and reconfirms connections and relationships. And as the business events industry, this is what our customers expect from us.
“We have a big role to play, being 10% of global GDP, to help the global economy to recover on the other side of COVID-19.”