Facing an uncertain future, convention industry looks for strength in numbers

The Asia Convention Alliance will build bridges between Thailand, Seoul, Malaysia and Taiwan. 

It remains unclear whether China, India and Japan will join the cooperation across borders.
It remains unclear whether China, India and Japan will join the cooperation across borders. Photo Credit:MyCEB

Amid ongoing uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, a series of memoranda of understanding signed on 2 September hopes to pave the way for an alliance that will link key MICE players in Thailand, Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan.

The fully virtual ceremony only served to accentuate the industry's current challenges, with signatories unable to meet in person due to Covid-related restrictions in their respective capital cities.

Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, President of the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) and an early proponent of hybrid meetings, acknowledged as much in his opening remarks, stating that "despite travel restrictions, we still have the passionate determination to make use of technology and overcome obstacles".

TCEB, the public arm that promotes MICE in Thailand, hosted the virtual event, attended by the head of TCEB’s private sector counterpart and co-initiator Thailand Incentive and Convention Association (TICA), as well as the chiefs of Seoul Tourism Organization (STO), Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) and Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA).

Abdul Khani Daud, CEO of MyCEB called the event “a timely initiative” while STO president and CEO Ki Yon Kil described the MOUs as “an important step toward the recovery of the MICE industry”.

Building back together in a post-pandemic era

Objectives of the Asia Convention Alliance (ACA) are to rebuild the convention industry by strengthening ties among members. By pooling knowledge and resources, the hope is that they will develop shared opportunities. The first events to benefit from this cooperation are expected to see the light of day in 2022.

How exactly these goals can be achieved will be subject to further discussions. In a statement released after the signing, MyCEB pointed to the possibility of holding more conventions in member countries on a rotating basis to support the market across the region.

Preparedness is also on the menu. “Going forward, the alliance aims to help local professional conference organisers (PCOs) in each member country to build confidence and become prepared to respond to fresh demands post-pandemic,” said MyCEB's Daud.

The future alliance is clearly betting on regional events and short-haul travel to spearhead the recovery of MICE. “It has become obvious that long-haul travel will be deferred for some time so it is in our best interests to explore solutions to maintain industry wellbeing and sustain our community for when normalcy returns,” said Sumate Sudasna, president of TICA.

STO head Ki foresees a trend away from mega events. “Interest in small-scale international conferences continues to grow,” he observed. He also urged fellow signatories not to lose sight of their shared goal to produce more sustainable events.

The announcement was also a call to both CVBs and DMOs that the region is ready for new opportunities. Leonor F. M. Lin, president and CEO of TAITRA, highlighted the importance of marketing the region for MICE to reboot.

“The attractiveness [of Asian destinations], natural wonders and cultural heritage offer enormous potential for MICE industry growth,” she noted.

The call for friendship and unity was echoed by all present, but whether that call will be heard elsewhere, including in China, India and Japan, remains to be seen. Still, the founding members are undeterred.

“The road to our success may be long and bumpy,” said TCEB's Isarangkun, “but with our combined strength I trust that we will achieve our goals together".

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