Back in person, back with a new vision

Bigger, bolder and better engagement as exhibitions and conferences relook data, technology and programme design to maximise business outcomes. 

As travel and events come back, conference formats should aim to engage delegates offline and online.
As travel and events come back, conference formats should aim to engage delegates offline and online. Photo Credit: GettyImages/kasto80

With MICE associations setting the wheels in motion for more effective collaborations among industry players, professional exhibitions organisers (PEOs) and professional conference organisers (PCOs) are picking up the pace with fresh perspectives on attendee engagement in the new norm and using data in the right way.

Jason Ng, Executive Director, MP International of Pico

The pandemic has fast-forwarded the agenda of the MICE industry to transform and to embrace new norms even as it returns to the familiarity of ‘old norms’ such as in-person events. Events for MP International have always focused on the branding and communications and technology aspects of the experience, and they are now more important than ever in maximising the engagement value of delegates for clients.

Collaboration wise, Jason Ng, Executive Director, MP International of Pico shared that they have been working closely with convention and exhibition bureaus (CVBs) and association partners to reframe their event formats. “We determine how these new formats will expand the variety of event experiences for destinations and enhance the stakeholder experience at the events.”

"One way PEOs can make data work harder is by regarding it holistically, from pre-event to on-site to post-event, and not analyse it in a ‘siloed’ fashion." - Jason Ng, Executive Director, MP International of Pico

Ng also emphasised the importance of securing intelligent data. “We are also working closely with our partners in data analytics to gain more meaningful insights from attendees’ experiences at these events.”

The typical events data and statistics that are generated for events are no longer good enough to meet new expectations. “With the plethora of data available from virtual events, exhibitors and sponsors will be expecting a similar level of data transparency from PEOs for physical exhibitions.

“One way PEOs can make data work harder is by regarding it holistically, from pre-event to on-site to post-event, and not analyse it in a ‘siloed’ fashion. You would be surprised by the amount of insight we can gain by stitching together data from pre-event registration right through to post-event surveys,” said Ng.

In-person events have returned, but PEOs have to fine-tune their playbooks to further enhance expected formats to yield better competitive value. Ng urged PEOs to start thinking about “accessibility beyond the location”.

“Exhibitions have always been about bringing sellers and buyers to one location during one period of time. While this is still very relevant, future exhibitions will do well to harness what we have learnt from organising virtual events in the last two years; that is, create multiple touchpoints beyond the physical exhibition to enhance attendees’ meaningful engagement,” Ng concluded.

Leck Chet Lam, Managing Director, Experia Events

Collaboration must begin at the governmental and industry level. “Right from the get-go for every event that we organise and manage, we choose to plug into conversations with tourism authorities and industry associations,” said Leck Chet Lam, managing director of Experia Events.

What is vital as Asia restarts international events is to get back to the fundamentals of in-person events and to get it right. For Leck, it means getting back to business, and helping clients make money as “the draw of the marketplace in exhibitions remains a constant across industries”.

"We must continue to find ways to embrace virtual and/or hybrid to continue to engage ‘outside’ the few days of in-person engagement."
Leck Chet Lam, Managing Director, Experia Events

He added that PEOs need to “sharpen business match-making and effectively support the industry’s increasingly sophisticated demand and needs”.

Leck also echoed Ng’s emphasis on the new perspective of in-person events. “We need to recognise that it is engagement at all phases of the customer journey that will be key to successful events.”

He stressed that the power of virtual events as demonstrated during the pandemic cannot be discounted although many prefer traditional face-to-face events. “We must continue to find ways to embrace virtual and/or hybrid to continue to engage ‘outside’ the few days of in-person engagement.”

Digitalisation presents both opportunities and challenges to the industry, and Leck believes that PEOs who recognise the “key shift in content at the core and foundation of each event” and apply their expertise in creating differentiated content will be able to greatly “help businesses sharpen their focus in business development”.

Leck concluded, “Digitalisation has catalysed the pace of change across all disciplines in the events industry, and effective orchestration of changes will be key to forging ahead successfully.”

For Experia Events, the aviation industry will continue to be a key focus as they continue to enhance their aerospace portfolio of events such as Singapore Airshow. The outlook for aviation looks optimistic, with International Air Transport Association forecasting global air passenger growth to be 3.3% over the next 20 years, with Asia Pacific at a solid growth rate of 4.5% over the same period.

Christopher McCuin, Managing Director, Montgomery Asia

Collaboration in the MICE industry cuts across countries, with associations such as UFI, AEO, SISO, SACEOS and many others forging global ties to address urgent changes facing the industry. Christopher McCuin, managing director of Montgomery Asia highlighted the growing role of industry bodies in providing much-needed guidance and support.

On the ground, McCuin emphasised that Montgomery Asia works very closely with CVBs from the host countries of its events. “For instance, at Geo Connect Asia 2021, we worked closely with Singapore Tourism Board in the lead‐up to the event, and were able to leverage their international network of contacts to support our communications efforts.”

"Macro data from our events offer us varied insights into a wide range of fields including demographics, social behaviour, health, and more."
Christopher McCuin, Managing Director, Montgomery Asia

When it comes to event formats, McCuin believes that there will generally be “more focus on a physical format with the digital experience playing a supporting role rather than being central to the event”.

“We want people to come to our events for face‐to‐face business contacts, sourcing new products and a great networking experience to enhance their working world,” he emphasised. “I believe physical events will continue to be in demand in the events and exhibitions industry for the foreseeable future.”

However, the big difference in the way in-person events will be perceived is in the data, and McCuin is a strong advocate of its application. “Our events are often a goldmine for data, and now more so than ever as we introduce more technology solutions at exhibitions and events to support safety protocols for instance.”

McCuin also shared that event organisers are increasingly looking towards macro data. “Macro data from our events offer us varied insights into a wide range of fields including demographics, social behaviour, health, and more. Harnessing such a wealth of data enables us to conduct comprehensive post‐event reviews to help us fine‐tune our approach for future events.”

Marcel Ewals, Director Engagement, Associations & Communities, MCI Group

The pandemic has created big shifts in perspectives among associations and PCOs. Discussions such as the ones at BestCities Global Forum in December last year addressed the issue of legacy building, and it also brought up the need for deeper collaboration among stakeholders, governments and members to build congress legacies.

While legacy outcomes are not part of current ROIs, it is an important factor for associations to think about as they navigate the post-pandemic landscape. Global PCOs such as MCI Group takes its thought leadership to associations and CVBs as part of this new journey.

"Organisers need to embrace the fact that their relationship with attendees should stretch way beyond the pre-event and event experience."
Marcel Ewals, Director Engagement, Associations & Communities, MCI Group

“We have participated in business re-engineering exercises for the industry, and we have created our F.A.S.T. service which helps associations to adjust their business modules to meet current needs and to transition effectively,” said Marcel Ewals, division head of association management and marketing, MCI Group.

“The last few years have been helped by the pandemic, in a way, as many associations were reluctant to change previously, but are now forced into a ‘do or die’ situation.”

Ewals also advocates an “[email protected]” approach to conference design. “Organisers need to embrace the fact that their relationship with attendees should stretch way beyond the pre-event and event experience.”

To facilitate that, Ewal said that data expertise remains a challenge to overcome. “This is a challenge as we come from a logistics perspective and not a technology perspective. Although we have made some leaps into technology during the pandemic, the industry will need to re-think its business modules by investing in data and utilising it as a potential revenue growth driver.”



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