There’s no going back to pre-Covid events

Why industry leaders say it is imperative for destinations and event organisers to look ahead and rethink their value proposition.

Onsite participants checking in to the recent IBTM Wired hybrid event.
Onsite participants checking in to the recent IBTM Wired hybrid event. Photo Credit:Reed Exhibitions

The conversation has to move away from when the events industry can revert to its pre-Covid heyday, and focus instead on gaining ground in a new ecosystem, thought leaders at the recent IBTM Wired event say.

“Certain destinations are more agile and [have emerged more] resilient. They are learning faster than others. These are destinations that are not really thinking about when or how recovery will come. At this point, it’s more about what’s next. We want to think about the new ecosystem [instead of] taking a wait-and-see attitude,” remarked Oscar Cerezales, MCI Group’s Global Executive Vice President Corporate Division.

He asserted that with hybrid events here to stay, the industry should already start figuring out new business models, rules of engagement and financials.

Why the status quo won't cut it for destinations

For destinations, sticking to the status quo could mean losing their spot in global rankings.

“If I were a destination, I would start thinking about what my value proposition is. When we are talking big face-to-face events, the value proposition is clear. We have venues, convention bureaus and value chains. But in a world that's becoming increasingly digital, what’s your role as a destination? What’s your benchmark? The answer is not hotel rooms or RevPAR.

MCI Group's Oscar Cerezales: keep up or get left behind.
MCI Group's Oscar Cerezales: keep up or get left behind.

“There are few destinations that are truly adapting their business models and value chains. Only a handful are walking the talk. That’s not going to be a big problem for some destinations, but it will be a great opportunity for others [that are working to stay competitive]. Destination rankings are going to change,” he predicted.

He foresees organisations will be looking more closely at how events can help achieve goals. Objectives and interests can go beyond a volume logic. "It's not about the millions of international visitors, but the quality of social transformation that events are bringing to the destination," he continued.

Dismissing digital is an opportunity squandered

The need to look ahead similarly applies to event organisers. Speakers at IBTM Wired in Singapore cautioned industry players from letting new opportunities slip away.

When it comes to re-imagining business models, UFI (The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry)’s managing director and CEO Kai Hattendorf, said: “To think that digital is just a fad is an opportunity squandered. The opportunity lies in understanding how to evolve the customer relationship, show floor and meeting place [through a digital lens]. There are ways to leverage omnichannels to create more opportunities to connect buyers and sellers.”

Is the crisis the last nail in the coffin for ticketing revenue? Panelists at IBTM Wired weighed in.
Is the crisis the last nail in the coffin for ticketing revenue? Panelists at IBTM Wired weighed in.

Offering a compelling reason for conference organisers to shake things up is the possibility that one of their main revenue sources may dry up for good.

“Old playbooks may not work anymore. Ticketing as a source of revenue may be dead for business events. It has not worked in the last year. Content is being made available for free, so people are questioning why they should even pay for attendance,” surmised Veemal Gungadin, CEO of event technology company GEVME.

Amid talk on the spirit of experimentation and learning, one success story event planners can look to is that of the subscription model, Gungadin shared. Some brands have started to run online event series throughout the year rather than organising one big event.

“Agencies are building subscription or retainer models and this seems to be working. Event organisers can apply the same model by having attendees subscribe for premium content.”

More value, deeper engagements

Speakers were quick to point out that evolving does not mean ditching onsite meetings wholesale. The industry has to keep its sights on the positive outcomes that matter, and make those happen whether physically or virtually.

Karen Bolinger, APAC managing director of Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), shared that the focus continues to be on allowing the exchange of ideas to happen effectively so that delegates can get value out of conferences. “What we have all realised is that the exchange that we have is far greater if we are able to do it in a less structured environment.”

Cerezales predicts that more corporates and associations will drift towards a "hub-and-spoke" event structure. We are already seeing a trend towards having teams of 50-100 connecting across multiple locations, rather than having thousands convene in one venue. With marketeers and organisations believing that smaller groups translates to deeper engagement and more targeted messaging, the trend could certainly persist, he said.

Summing up, UFI’s Hattendorf stressed that balance is key. “We had to go all the way to digital when the pandemic hit, and now [some of us] have gone too far back into face-to-face meetings. A balance between the two will define our way forward.”

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