TIME 2020 delivers hybrid meet on global stage

The fifth edition of TCEB’s annual event incorporated an online-to-offline platform to a global audience, both an event first.

Industry stakeholders share business continuity and communications strategies during a hybrid panel discussion.
Industry stakeholders share business continuity and communications strategies during a hybrid panel discussion.

For the first time, the Thailand Incentives & Meetings Exchange (TIME) took place as a hybrid event. Held in Bangkok last week, TIME 2020 attracted more than 100 local stakeholders at The Athenee Hotel with a global audience tuning in to a live stream via Zoom.

Organised by the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), TIME started in 2016 with the Chinese market, followed by India the next year, long-haul markets such as Australia, the U.S. and Europe in 2018, and the ASEAN+6 region for 2019 before taking the global leap this year.

In a nod to the bureau's forward-thinking approach, a hologram of TCEB president, Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, was ‘beamed’ onto the stage for an opening address, with his avatar greeting physical and virtual attendees from the future.

“Greetings from the year 2030," he said. "Despite new normal practices, TIME 2020, if my memory serves me correctly, will see great opportunities for interactions, networking and ideas in order to provide you with a path to tomorrow.” 

He then appeared ‘live’ on stage and encouraged delegates to “make ample use of the new experience and knowledge offered by [TIME’s] global speakers…to integrate new business enhancements”.

Business survival and customer refocus

A hybrid panel session about surviving in business and refocusing on customer engagement was a highlight. Here, all five panellists (representing corporate planners, event agencies, and media) echoed the same three business imperatives: adaptability, customer centricity, and maintaining connection—even if it means going old school and picking up the phone to chat with clients and team members.

More than 100 local stakeholders gathered at The Athenee Hotel, with a global audience tuning in via Zoom.
More than 100 local stakeholders gathered at The Athenee Hotel, with a global audience tuning in via Zoom.

For Francis Cheong, CEO, Aavii Worldwide, his company has already completed 92 remote events since lockdown in Malaysia. Now that it’s back to physical business as usual for the destination, the team is looking to manage two upcoming launches and another two conferences.

In all these cases, Cheong said clients are looking for production and on-demand content like never before. He also shared a few twists on incentives travel, which garnered positive comments from the floor.

"Even when a vaccine is available, people will still be using hybrid formats. So what about a drive-through event? Delegates can view pre-produced videos or listen to the CEO's speech while they enjoy a boxed meal in their cars,” he said.

Speaking from the buyer’s point of view, Scott Cameron, country chief information technology officer, Allianz Ayudhya Assurance, paralleled the idea of rethinking incentive travel programmes, especially in a time such as this.

“Before, we could travel overseas to Europe," said Cameron. "Now what’s that experiential side that still makes that incentive worth working hard for? Something that really drives the performance we are looking for in [our staff]?”

Apart from customised experiences, safety and costs are two other top concerns that consistently pop up in client’s checklists.

“We need to look at what clients really need now. We start looking at bringing people back to Thailand, but half refuse to come as they’re afraid of travel. Also, it’s looking into cost saving. If you can show your business can help clients drive cost saving, do that,” said Patama Chantaruck. vice-president for Indochina Expansion and managing director of IBM Thailand.

For Michelle Sargent, director, CWT Meetings and Events, one of the biggest changes is the lead times for booking events. Where clients used to book up to eight months ahead, now it’s about three to four months.

“People are holding back a little, [but] when numbers are more positive…they’re ready to go," said Sargent. "We’re educating our clients, letting them know that in order for them to get the dates they require especially the first to second quarter of 2021, they need to consider six months out. Flexibility in regard to contracting has never been better, so there’s no reason for people not to sign on the dotted line and get started.”

All these sentiments are familiar to Lauren Arena, editor at M&C Asia, having just concluded the trade title’s recent hybrid event, M&C Asia Connections (MCAC) Virtual. She shared that understanding client’s needs and delivering messages that speak to those needs were important.

“Communications should be narrative based. From a destination perspective, be sure to highlight different players to resonate with different segments of your audience," said Arena. "Right now, event planners want to know what your safety protocols are, so show, don’t tell. And focus on empathy, we are all in this boat together.”

One way to do that? “Pick up the phone and say what you need,” said Sargent, who did just that and received five new requests for proposals after her base of clients offered to help.

“We’ve been working with you already, [so] you know the new challenges we face. How can you help us resolve these challenges and bring that unique experience? Just because it’s a unique situation doesn’t mean you can’t talk to us—how can we collaborate to think through this new normal, hybrid, what it’s going to be?” added Cameron.

To this end, Cheong had yet another practical way of delivering empathy.

“We picked 20 of our key customers, reached out and said, ‘let us help you produce something to kickstart your business.’ So we created video content for them to place on their websites for free, to say ‘we hope that you know we’re still here to support you and in turn bring us business when the time comes'.”

Concluded Arena, “Keep talking, keep experimenting, and stay focused on people."