Singapore’s first large-scale hybrid event of the year, Geo Connect Asia (GCA) 2021, kicked off last week, with close to 1,000 in-person attendees meeting across two days at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre. Some additional 1,000 delegates from more than 40 countries tuned in online — not only to watch virtual conference sessions, but more importantly, conduct virtual meetings.
GCA 2021 featured 23 exhibitors from the geo spatial industry (think drone applications, satellite mapping and surveying), which was estimated to be worth US$58.35 billion in 2019 and poised to rise to US$158.84 billion by 2027.
The event focused on “mapping the data-driven future economy”, with speakers from the World Bank, Singapore Land Authority and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
With growing ubiquity of smart technologies and big data (even in the live events industry), Balakrishnan said the real-time availability of high-resolution spatial data and location technology is essential to build smarter cities, create responsible public services, and to improve quality of life.
Perhaps the most notable use of geospatial intelligence in the last year has been to manage the spread of Covid-19 through contact tracing. It’s no coincidence, then, that a new wearable device for more detailed contact tracing at events was trialled at GCA 2021.
Taking cues from Singapore's first hybrid trade show TravelRevive in November 2020, GCA 2021 also served as a platform to testbed new hybrid event formats and digital solutions. Here’s what we experienced:
Geo Suites: Ballrooms were converted into three ‘Geo Suites’ that housed meeting pods. Major sponsors, Trimble and Bentley Systems, had a dedicated suite to display their technologies and solutions, as well as provide demonstrations on a stage.
These Suites assumed the role of a typical trade show floor, however meetings had to be scheduled via GCA’s online platform in order to minimise intermingling between different cohorts. Each suite required visitors to scan a QR upon entry.
Larger meeting pods, catering for up to 4 people (double the size of those trialled at TravelRevive) were also featured on the reimagined show floor. All meeting pods are fitted with plexiglass and microphones to separate the exhibitor and buyer.
The event also trialled the Safe Event Tool, a geospatial technology solution developed by local tech companies, Viatick and Trakomatic.
The solution is two-fold: A temperature-checking kiosk that uses facial recognition or a QR code for quick registration, and wearable dongle (tagged specifically to each visitor) that tracked movements throughout the event as well as interactions between attendees.
“The dongle stores interactions between people and flags ‘unauthorised contact’ to the organiser,” explained Louis Kent Lee, head of accounts and engagement at Viatick. “It monitors dwell time to determine different types of contact — transient, casual or close — in order to highlight ‘hot zones’ within the event,” he said.
For event organisers in Singapore, this data can be used in the post-event report that, in accordance with current safety rules, must be submitted to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
According to Lee, GCA 2021 was the first time the tool “was activated at such a scale” and while he expected some resistance among attendees, he said delegates were compliant and “very co-operative”. He’s currently working with other venues to develop the tool further and has already received interest from event organisers across Southeast Asia and Europe.
STB executive director of exhibitions and conferences, Andrew Phua, said the launch of Geo Connect Asia 2021 “showcases our MICE industry’s ingenuity and ability to reimagine the future of business events… [it] also affirms that Singapore’s reputation as a trusted and sought-after MICE destination remains strong.”
Montgomery Asia Geo Connect Asia co-founder, Rupert Owen, who flew from the UK to attend his inaugural event in-person, applauded the support of STB and the Singapore Land Authority in making the hybrid event a reality, but he's a firm believer in the return of large-scale physical events.
“It’s a process, it's going to change, and we’re at the beginning of that change,” Owen said during the GCA 2021 opening ceremony.
He’s already planning GCA 2022 as a physical event in Singapore. “Exhibitions are not just an opportunity to say hello to people you know, but also the serendipity of new relationships and new understandings — and that only comes from in-person exhibitions, especially in Asia because it’s such a melting pot,” he said.
Hybrid meetings just a steppingstone
After organising this year’s hybrid event — a process described as a rollercoaster — Owen believes the cost to facilitate the virtual component (largely attributed to customer service support and systems integration for virtual meetings) outweighs the benefits.
“It’s very obvious that the exhibition hybrid format is not working… the affordability of companies to spend on hybrid is limited. The belief is not there… you have to think about who your users are, and whether that industry uses technology, or not," he said.
“Hybrid will take a backseat when people get back into the face-to-face meetings environment, where they can enjoy evenings at the bar as much as their meetings during the day.”