5 things we learnt at SMF 2019

Tipped as the event for next generation visionaries, disruptors and leaders, the recently concluded Singapore MICE Forum (SMF) 2019 was a gathering of some of the top industry leaders offering exciting case studies and showcasing real-life stories in the meetings industry.

Over two days of presentations and candid discussions at the Resorts World Sentosa Convention Centre, here are five lessons we picked up from the forum:

Collaboration and the importance of working closely with industry partners and customers was a theme emphasised throughout the show, in presentations on topics ranging from drawing on attendee input to design "community-based" event programming to earning the "social license" of consumers in creating digital spaces. 

But the point was perhaps best driven home by Ray Bloom, chairman and founder of IMEX Group and longtime industry sage, who shared his experiences pioneering the hosted-buyer concept for business events dating back to the 1980s and the ups and downs of these efforts during a session titled "Confessions of a Trade Show Organiser".

"We can't do anything on our own," he explained during a Q&A after the talk. "Trust was talked about quite a lot and I think relationships are built on mutual trust - treating people as you would like to be treated yourself."

He specifically pointed to his efforts in Asia, where "it took time to build up trust. It has to be worked at and never taken for granted."

While the benefits of face-to-face meetings is all but impossible to replicate virtually, planners should be doing a lot more to bring digital tools into their events, particularly when it comes to understanding attendees, their behavior and preferences. 

This was a point highlighted by a number of speakers, such as Gianluca Bernacchia, analytics chief technologist Asia for IT services company DXC Technology - who looked at the opportunities presented by artificial intelligence to help enhance events, security and attendee behavior - and Will Kataria, director of sales for Cvent, who looked at ways to better track "your attendee journey."

"We don't invest enough in technology at events or after events, even though we spend millions of dollars planning events," said Kataria. "Ten years ago, registration was a big deal, but increasingly planners are looking for insight to make better decisions about data, and to help make actionable decisions."

A number of speakers and industry leaders emphasised the importance of setting out a clear mission statement for one's organisation - or, for those that have a mission statement already, reviewing and rethinking its focus. Oscar Cerezales, COO Asia Pacific for MCI Group, discussed how his organisation revamped its business model over an afternoon with the assistance of about 30 members of the business events community, generating a tangible "Day Zero" business plan the day before the SMF conference.

Didier Scaillet, CEO for Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, discussed his organisation's development earlier this year of the Bangkok Manifesto, which re-examined the incentive travel association's identity and goals for the future. 

"If everyone knows why we exist and what we serve then everyone can make decisions based on that," said Scaillet. "And these decisions will be the brave ones and the right ones."

While planning events is often about working out every detail so that the program runs just as the agenda says it will, you also should not forget the power of surprise. A number of presenters stressed this point, including Gaurav Modi, CEO, South East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, for digital consulting firm Capgemini, discussing how companies can create "serendipity by design" in their events and digital experiences. 

"Our lives are over-programmed, demanding, over-controlled; it's the unexpected moments that create lasting memories and drive meaningful impact," said Meredith Rollins, chief community officer of Professional Convention Management Association, during the business events industry panel, pointing to "orchestrated serendipity" as one of the key trends cited in a recent survey her organisation commissioned. "How do we intentionally design and engineer for surprise?"

SACEOS, with the help of Resorts World Sentosa's partnership with Universal Studios, gave an example of this in the first moments of the conference, when actors dressed as the Transformers characters Optimus Prime and Bumblebee popped out from backstage to welcome attendees. It was an unexpected moment that helped alert those in the audience that they should expect the unexpected.

A common mistake made by sellers is an overemphasis on selling the infrastructure, and not the destination. That, according to Rajeev Kohli, the managing director of Creative Travel India, is a missed opportunity.

At a panel discussion named Global Buyers Insights, Rajeev said he has come across several sellers whose sales pitch centres around the infrastructure that their organisations have to offer.

"But no buyer will buy into (it) based just on that," he said. "Destinations are selling themselves short. There are so much more sellers can offer beyond the number of conference rooms you have."

Rajeev added that what appeals to buyers are the unique experiences the destination is able to offer through its culture, cuisine, and people. 

Agreed Matthew Oster, the Head of Enterprise Events at National Australia Bank. "Sellers are always selling infrastructure and not selling the soul of the destination," he said. "Sellers should be selling the appeal of the destination first."

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