The 59th International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Congress made history last week (1-3 November) as the association’s first-ever hybrid, multi-hub event.
Taiwan's southern port city of Kaohsiung acted as the congress nerve centre, welcoming a live audience at the Kaohsiung Exhibition Centre and connecting the global ICCA community by live-streaming content to more than 1,500 attendees in eight regional hubs across the globe.
Following the theme ‘Transforming Global Events Together’, the event featured a six-week ‘Road to Kaohsiung’ pre-congress programme that crowdsourced ideas and technologies for the future of events. These collective insights were officially presented as the 'Kaohsiung Protocol' and will serve as a framework to help the industry identify new business opportunities and advance hybrid meeting models.
The framework is centred upon four key pillars:
- Enhanced engagement and value (customer centricity and omni-channel culture)
- Digital restructure and hybrid events (workforce and skills)
- Shared risk management (health and safety)
- Innovative business models (revenue diversification and increased collaboration)
Presented in partnership with the Kaohsiung City Government, the Kaohsiung Protocol is a major legacy outcome of the 59th ICCA Congress — and the event itself put a number of its strategies into action.
Yang Mingzhou, secretary-general of the Kaohsiung City Government, said the city’s quick pivot to bridge the online-offline divide resulted in a number of innovative event components, while ICCA president, James Rees, said the re-imagined hybrid event will act as a “live” case study for the entire events industry.
The event's hybrid format connected live viewing parties in Kaohsiung, Riyadh, Cape Town, Luxembourg, Malaga, and Seoul, with virtual hubs of localised content in Kuching, Latin America and North America, along with individual members who tuned in virtually. Live broadcasts in the various destinations were weaved together by host, Robert Coren, in a London-based recording studio.
Similar to a news broadcast, Coren, a seasoned journalist, summarised keynote sessions and segued to regional hosts for additional comments. Programme interludes were also filled with localised content so that virtual attendees could watch live or pre-recorded content while in-person delegates broke for lunch.
Digital first. Always... and forever?
This digital-first approach — where live gatherings were organised as viewing parties that connected to a wider, digital community — follows the advice of keynote speaker Bob Bejan, corporate vice president of global events, production studios, and marketing community at Microsoft, who urged planners to focus on cinematic experience rather than theatrical delivery.
According to Bejan, the future of live events will develop along a digital axis, where ongoing engagement will build an appetite for live activation in local markets.
"As event professionals we always think about the [event] destination, but if we think about our local markets as opportunities for live activation in support of a digital core that is distributed globally, the possibilities are endless," he said. "We need to apply this new way of thinking to buildings, facilities and capabilities."
For example, Bejan questioned how hotel ballrooms and convention centres could be upgraded to create an environment that is conducive for "people to watch TV together and interact". Given the scalability and cost-saving benefits of digital events, he also cautioned that new success metrics will be needed to justify the added expense of live events.
The Kaohsiung Protocol is poised to help industry stakeholders formulate such metrics, with ICCA CEO, Senthil Gopinath, stating the association's primary objective is "to restart our industry in a safe and sustainable manner".
Echoing this, Rees highlighted the growing importance of public-private collaboration to co-create event programming and legacy outcomes.
“It has been a privilege to work with the Kaohsiung City Government and we thank all the Host City Stakeholders for their commitment to rise to the challenge presented by the global pandemic and to re-imagine the ICCA Congress,” he said.
Gregg H. Talley, moderator of the Kaohsiung Protocol working group and CEO of the Talley Management Group said: “We have a framework for members to build from based on our customer’s input. And we have an interesting path forward on innovative business models, industry collaboration and advocacy. Our goal was to create a legacy for the Kaohsiung Congress – Mission accomplished!”