At SMF, Industry Leaders Urge the Need for Creating Connections

In the midst of a fast-changing world, members of business-events organisations must dedicate themselves to strengthening community within the industry and building relationships outside of it. 

That was among the key themes emphasised during the Singapore MICE Forum, the networking and educational gathering of members of the meetings and events industry, organised by SACEOS, that took place last week at Resorts World Sentosa Convention Centre. Presenters and panelists touched on a vast range of topics over the event's day and a half of programming, but the importance of collaboration and engagement with the wider world came up repeatedly throughout. 

The event kicked off with SACEOS President Aloysius Arlando and Singapore Tourism Board Chief Executive Keith Tan providing a big-picture look at the industry and the evolving priorities for planners of business events. Arlando emphasised that event owners are demanding maximum return on investment from their gatherings and that means seeking ways to interact before, during and after events, going "beyond a two- to three-day show."

Tan highlighted the larger value that MICE business brings to Singapore, and any destination where they are held, focusing on three major dimensions where business events play a role: Business opportunities they create for local companies; the strategic marketing that MICE business offers in "strengthening Singapore's mindshare" for those who attend or hold events in the destination; and the opportunities business events provide in testing innovations and solutions beyond the MICE industry.

"MICE, we believe, has a much larger role beyond tourism," said Tan. "It supports our government goal of strengthening Singapore's position in knowledge exchange and innovation." 

Why MICE Organisations Must Better Understand Their Attendees 

The wider impact of business events and their role in the changing global economy was an ongoing theme throughout the event, emphasised particularly during a panel discussion between four meeting buyers based around the globe. These speakers urged destination representatives and other supplies to the MICE industry to strive to better understand the business needs of their customers and the larger communities they represent. 

Catherine Butler, director of operations and event solutions for BCD Meetings & Events, urged suppliers to learn about her U.S.-based clients, gaining an appreciation for the variety of individuals, "so you can tailor your programs, give a unique and bespoke offering to us that we can deliver to our markets." 

Rajeev Kohli, joint managing director of Creative Travel, Pvt. Ltd. pointed to the growing strength of the Indian travel market, and the importance for those hosting business events to approach them as a more diverse group than they have previously - not think of India as one culture but dozens of groups, speaking 22 languages and more than 1,000 dialects.

"I think destinations are doing a great disservice by stereotyping Indians in the way they are," he said. "We are a changing, evolving market and one of the most powerful outbound markets in the world. Budgets are never a problem: We bargain, we are price sensitive, but show us the value and we will buy it."

The importance of better understanding your customers and their own customers was underlined by a number of speakers. These ranged from Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of Eight, Inc. (creator of Apple's retail program) exploring how design decisions should come from an understanding of human emotions, to Mattias Posch, president of the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers, exhorting attendees to understand what they and their organisations do well or else fall into the "mediocrity trap."

Taking an "attendee-centric" approach to business events was perhaps on greatest display during the "unconference" during the afternoon of the first day, during which more than a dozen speakers - covering topics as wide-ranging as diversity in the MICE industry, cyber security and creative ways to create a coffee break - took to three different stages for brief presentations and panel discussions. Attendees were given headsets that allowed them to "change channels" between the talks, tuning into the one that most interested them for as long as it interested them. 

Why MICE Organisations Must Engage With the Wider World

Engaging with the wider world was a major topic of the second day's industry panel, which brought together eight leaders of the MICE industry to discuss global issues affecting meetings and business events.

Though Didier Scaillet, CEO of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, stressed that his organisation only focuses on incentive travel and that focus "is a great advantage in many ways," he added that he expects to see the industry "elevating a number of issues" beyond the specific work of hosting business events, including human trafficking, sustainability and gender equality. "At the end of the day, we're all doing the same thing, so I'd expect to see a push to put all that under one umbrella." 

Rod Cameron, executive director of AIPC, an association of approximately 60 major convention centres around the world, emphasised that for his members and the industry as a whole, survival depends on going beyond our own industry to ensure its relevance to wider communities and governments. 

"We survive as a sector because other people - typically governments - are willing to invest a lot of money," he said. "That means that we have to be conscious all the time not just about what's good for our industry, but what we're doing for communities, governments and more."

It was a point that many others at the conference echoed.

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