Planners from the US, Europe and Asia Pacific took part in a panel on "Brave New World of Meetings".
In times of unrest and uncertainty, the immediate response for most people would be to stay away until the situation stabilises. But instead, J. David Rozsa, CEO of US-based associations management company Metacred, called upon his fellow peers in the meetings and events industry to play a part in changing the negative narrative, so as to show support to the affected destinations and ensure business is as usual.
"People and markets chase hype. If you and I feed into the postive hype instead and go out there saying, 'Hey, there may be minor problems, but we're going to get through it,' clients will follow, meetings continue to be successful and all of sudden, you've played a part to make that a reality," said Mr Rozsa during a panel discussion, "Brave New World of Meetings" at M&C Asia Connections (MCAC) 2019 on August 20 in Singapore.
The session, moderated by Northstar Meetings Group's vice president/content director Loren Edelstein, also surfaced the need for businesses to be resilient in an industry where the only constant is change.
Referencing the recent political instability in Hong Kong, CEO of ECG London Les Sinclair said no one could have predicted 12 months ago that there will be civil unrest in the territory. "We need to always be prepared for what happens when things go wrong, think on our feet and have a contingency plan," he said.
A useful tip he suggested to all planners present was to include an addendum to contracts, as many large hotel chains tend to be resistant to changing standard contracts, which usually do not include provisions for civil unrest.
Agreeing with Mr Sinclair was managing director of Singapore-based DMC World Express's Darren Tan, "In some sense, we are almost immune to shock. When there are demonstrations leading to airport closures, bookings will plunge but within a matter of months, things will bounce back. The industry is more resilient now."
Another topic that was brought up in the conversation was destination marketing - more destinations are now promoting themselves as knowledge hubs to align themselves with planners and delegates who are looking at destination appeal beyond its meetings infrastructure.
"When we look at placing a meeting in destination, before even getting to a venue, we want some good advice. Is it a good fit for the client? In much more practical terms, what we want is for CVBs to work in full partnership with us to maximise local participation in our internationl events. For instance, if we put a meeting in Singapore, we want the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to connect us with local professionals, be it panelists for conferences or speakers etc… that's where we find the real value of putting a meeting anywhere but online," said Mr Rosza.
This is in line with changing delegate preferences, of which Mr Tan noted, "More and more groups want to mix conferences with educational elements and experience these outdoors instead of in a meeting room."
In Singapore, for instance, the city-state has referenced its background as a country with finite resources and journey to water self-sufficiency to tailor educational tours offering foreign visitors insights into its expertise in water treatment.
Another important aspect that people expect to see, he said, are Insta-worthy moments and connectivity - especially so for Chinese clients who feedback that they want to be able to post trip updates on the move "so the guy who didn't qualify for the incentive would want to be there next year".
A caveat, however, warned Mr Sinclair, is that "socia media on its own is merely a tool."
He said, "We have an adage: old values, new technology. It's how you blend it with what [our industry's] about: relationships and community."