The past year has been a bumpy ride for traditional MICE players, but also a rewarding journey for some who have taken the digitisation leap.
“We took a wait-and-see attitude at first early last year. Up until July, we thought the market would rebound and enquiries were coming. However, hope was short-lived and in October with the second lockdown I lost about RM1 million (US$240,000) in sales," said Memoires Events Management planner Pinky Tiong, whose forte is in gala dinners after being in the events industry for 10 years and the hotel industry for six. “I realised I have to change. I can’t live in the past but need to move forward."
The turning point came when Tiong started doing Facebook Live interviews with eminent entrepreneurs. These were not meant to be money-making from the outset, but became a revenue generator once Tiong's efforts started drawing the attention from clients who requested for her to produce social media content for them at a fee.
Sharing her experience during the Malaysian Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (MACEOS) Forum: Real People Real Help, event, Tiong explained how this one business idea also roped in industry partners such as videographers, photographers and graphic artists.
"Some of my invited guests also introduced me to their clients and the business grew from there." For one particular hybrid event, Tiong brought in RM300,000.
The MACEOS forum also spotlighted the success story of the Malaysian International Furniture Fair (MIFF). Initially scheduled for last March, this was one of the first events to be cancelled because of the pandemic.
According to general manager Karen Goi, MIFF decided it needed to stay connected to clients, and launched their digital showroom so that buyers could still see what’s on the market.
“Overseas buyers still needed to source for products. We held our first virtual online exhibition because this will allow buyers to visualise [products on offer]. Attendance numbers were lower, but this is an alternate solution in the situation. Feedback from both [buyers and exhibitors] has been very encouraging,” said Goi who has been involved with MICE for more than 20 years.
She shared that the company is currently working on a virtual exhibition that will expand MIFF’s digital presence to 365 days a year instead of being confined to an annual four- or five-day event.
The company plans to keep up hybrid formats even when onsite events return.
“The pandemic has changed how we travel or plan to travel. People are more selective now, and will think twice because of safety and other concerns. Virtual events give them the chance to attend [despite limitations],” she added.
It was all about internal transformation for Friday Chua, Radiant Expo Managing Director, who realised he had to change, adapt and learn first to lead the way for the rest of his team.
Chua has 11 years of experience in virtual and on-site conferences, meetings and seminars catering to the corporate and government sector.
“I needed to put myself in my clients' shoes and ask what I can provide them and what value I can add,” he said.
His first transformation case study was in May 2020, where a client that manufactured car air fresheners requested to do a live event. Chua opted instead for a Facebook virtual launch. The event attracted 12,000 viewers and in one month the client sold 140,000 units.
In 2020, Chua and his team completed 100 virtual events.
As the pandemic continues to take a toll, Chua stressed that it has also brought a revolution of ideas and models, representing a journey that all in the industry should take together.