KUALA LUMPUR – Hybrid and virtual events will be part of the MICE
landscape for the foreseeable future, according to industry stakeholders
at this year's Malaysia Business Events Week (MBEW) — which was also a hybrid event, with international speakers participating online.
Organised by the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB)
and held at the World Trade Centre on 24-25 August, the event saw 292
registered delegates on-site, together with 200 virtual participants
from around the world. It was launched by Tourism, Arts and Culture
Minister Dato’ Sri Nancy Shukri who detailed various government
initiatives with a RM1 billion (US$240million) fund for tourism
Since the virus outbreak, Dato’ Sri Nancy said that only 24 events
secured by MyCEB have been cancelled, with 64 rescheduled. She added
that with Malaysia’s success in battling the pandemic and the solid SOPs
in place to ensure the safety and health of participants, she expected
the country to rebuild confidence in holding business events and
MyCEB CEO Dato’ Sri Abdul Khani Daud, revealed that MyCEB had already
secured four online international meetings for for 2021-2025 and was
also trying to persuade those who had cancelled to rethink their
decision. And for this meeting, participation fees for both on-site and
virtual participants were waived in an effort to gather industry players
and share knowledge on how to revitalise the industry.
New normal, new ways
The use of mobile apps to foster greater engagement and 'safe'
networking at in-person events is set to increase. At MBEW, for example,
gaming app GoTeam was used to facilitate a team-building session. It
can be customised according to each organiser’s needs and proved popular
among MBEW participants.
Meanwhile, members of the Business Events Council Malaysia (which
helped draw up the SOPs for running events in Malaysia) shared some of
their innovative ideas in a panel session.
MEP Meeting & Exhibition Planners chief marketing guru, Richard
Soo, spoke of recreating the experience of a gala dinner for the virtual
world with a theme requiring participants to dress up and
theme-appropriate catering delivered to delegates in their respective
Informa Markets group managing director and SVP (Asia), Gandhi
Muthiah, shared that the largest furniture fair in Southeast Asia,
MIFF, was rescheduled for March next year. However, Informa is also
working on a virtual experience for international delegates (6,000
participants from 140 countries) in case the country’s international
borders are not opened by then.
“While the physical booths will be there for local visitors, we will
create a VR representation of the floor plan and navigate international
participants to booths. Delegates can then click and actually chat with
the exhibitors via a mobile app, with a live tour of the products on
show,” he said.
MBEW managed to successfully implement the new SOPs for business
events in Malaysia with scans, tracking, physical distancing, hand
sanitising and use of face masks by participants, and pre-packed food
The theme of the event was Rebuilding Confidence and speakers and
participants continually affirmed their own confidence in running
successful events. What is needed, they agreed, is to instill that same
confidence among clients and international delegates.
As Hotshoes managing director, Collier Yong, pointed out, his clients
are willing to spend, but are worried about consequences. “It’s still
not clear what the liabilities to organisers and clients are if, for
example, a participant tests positive to the coronavirus, even though
all SOPs were adhered to," he said. "We can’t control what happens to
participants outside of their time at the venue. It’s the onus on the
government to give clarity on that and restore confidence.”
Medical Conference Partners director, Dee Dee Quah, explained that
collaboration is the way forward, and encouraged event companies to join
forces with suppliers like tech providers.
Along with collaboration, concepts like sustainability and
resilience, re-skilling (especially in tech), pivoting, adapting, and
continued engagement were continually repeated throughout the event.
Travel bubbles were also addressed, with Dato Sri Nancy pointing that, while bilateral negotiations are ongoing, regional travel is proving difficult. Instead, she suggested establishing 'bubbles' between cities rather than entire countries. In Thailand, for example, Phuket plans to open its borders to international travellers in October.
No matter the destination, the consensus among MBEW participants is
that domestic events must drive the industry until international travel
is firmly re-established. Amid ongoing uncertainty, every country is
seemingly taking a similar, hybrid approach. Reflecting on this,
International Congress & Convention Association (ICCA) regional
director, Noor Ahmad Hamid, asked: How can one differentiate themselves
and not just copy what everyone else is doing?
This is a question that all industry stakeholders and respective governments need to answer.