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Asia Planner Pulse Survey: Online engagement still a mystery

Physical meetings expected return by Q2, with strong push towards hybrid events.

Asia Planner Pulse Survey 2020
28% of respondents said the earliest live events being planned are for Q2 2021, with restoring trust among clients one of the top challenges this year. Photo Credit:Getty Images

Online engagement continues to baffle event planners in Asia, according to results of Northstar Meeting Group’s Asia Planner Pulse Survey.

More than 140 planners were surveyed in late 2020 and 68 per cent identified attendee engagement as the biggest challenge in planning virtual and hybrid events. This may be cause for concern as close to 30 per cent of planners reported the status of 2020 meetings and events as “scheduled but moving to virtual platforms”.

Meanwhile, 22 per cent of events were cancelled and 37 per cent postponed to 2021. While positive news surrounding vaccines for Covid-19 has buoyed the industry, uncertainty lingers over the speed of distribution — especially now that destinations, like Thailand and Japan, are experiencing renewed lockdown measures following a spike in cases during the festive season.

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Twenty-eight per cent of respondents said the earliest live events being planned are for Q2 2021. Planners in the region also expect to see smaller meetings (with approx. 250 delegates) and to plan more events at resorts, signalling pent-up travel demand and the need to re-energise and refresh teams once travel restrictions are lifted.

Nevertheless, to prepare for the 'new normal', 67 per cent reported undertaking digital skills training for virtual and hybrid events.

Generally, planners expect hybrid meetings to lead the charge in 2021, with one respondent stating that even after the immediate threat of Covid-19 has passed, lingering travel restrictions in countries that are either "more cautious" or "more affected by the pandemic" could curtail in-person event attendance.

"These restrictions will affect MICE event participation significantly — and so will the repercussions from the economic crisis. The latter will diminish the "pool" of MICE event attendees and sponsors."

According to the survey, event planners are also gearing up to face the following challenges in 2021:

  • Restoring trust among clients and prospective event attendees;
  • Negotiating cancellation policies with venues and hotels;
  • Battling the perception from clients that hybrid events are cheaper than a physical event;
  • Encouraging team members to accept and embrace a 'new normal' instead of waiting for the return of 'the good ol' days'.

Interestingly, the pandemic has not dampened planners’ interest in Southeast Asia, with little change in preferred destinations pre- and post-Covid. The top five post-Covid destinations for events are: Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Indonesia (respectively).