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What Singapore’s innovation can teach us about the future of events

PCMA Asia Pacific Managing Director, Karen Bolinger reflects on the year that was, and the lessons to take into 2021.

PCMA Karen Bolinger Headshot

This time of year is always an occasion for reflection — and in a year as extraordinary as this one, there’s a lot to think about.

The global business events industry has been met with many great challenges in 2020. As the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to physical meetings and events, businesses were forced to re-examine everything from operating models and health and safety protocols, to capabilities, talent and future growth plans. Forecasts were thrown out the window and questions around value and purpose cast doubt on the industry.

But in the face of these hard truths, we’ve also discovered opportunities to reinvent the way we do things. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Singapore. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the city-state has effectively become a ‘living lab’ to test new technologies and hybrid meeting models alongside enhanced hygiene and contact-tracing measures.

After pre-event antigen testing was successfully trialled at the Singapore International Energy Week, the city-state hosted TravelRevive in November, a hybrid trade show prototype that saw more than 1,000 in-person attendees — including 60 international visitors. This was the first international travel trade show in Asia Pacific since the coronavirus pandemic.

The industry rallied together to support the experiment, with global and regional association leaders flying in to experience the event first-hand and share learnings with policymakers back home. Others joined virtually, appearing ‘live’ on stage at Marina Bay Sands via telecast or as holograms beamed in real-time from the other side of the globe.

It was heartening to see so many APAC industry stakeholders come together to recreate the experience of meeting for a post-Covid context — combining the physical and virtual worlds to connect a global audience.

Singapore’s status as global business hub, coupled with a calibrated ‘test and learn’ approach to reopening its economy, and the launch of the Marina Bay Sands Hybrid Broadcast Studio which integrates virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and holographic telepresence, has proved vital in rebuilding consumer confidence in meetings.

This readiness to embrace technology — and invest in omnichannel engagement — is why PCMA has partnered with Singapore Tourism Board and Marina Bay Sands to create a Global Broadcast Center for our flagship event Convening Leaders 2021, 11 – 15 January. Convening Leaders is known in the events world as the platform for connection, risk-taking and the incubator for new ideas.

This live site based in Singapore will be the first ever regional hub for Convening Leaders. This exciting addition will enable people in the Asia Pacific region to come together for half days on 13 and 14 January to network, watch keynote speakers and expert panels, and celebrate our resilience in the response to the great changes our industry has faced in 2020.

PCMA Recovery is Coming
PCMA will create a Global Broadcast Center in Singapore for its flagship event, Convening Leaders, in January 2021.

Successful test events are a critical part of the industry’s recovery effort — not only in Singapore, but across Asia Pacific. Even when borders reopen and travel resumes, we need to be truly prepared for what the ‘new normal’ will bring. Convening Leaders will focus on the new business models by being an example of one itself. For, despite positive news regarding a Covid-19 vaccine, industry and government leaders all agree we can’t afford to wait. Neither can we expect the business of events to continue unchanged. Instead, we need to completely rewire the way we create connections, share knowledge and transact business.

It’s also exciting to think that the Convening Leaders omnichannel experience in January will lay the groundwork for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2021, which will also take place in Singapore in May – marking only the second time the global leadership has been held outside of Davos, Switzerland.

So, where to from here?

We are in the business of creating connections – not events. Recovery is not about returning to status quo but creating a whole new experience. We will be an entirely different business events industry in years to come.

We are no longer confined by time and space. Instead, we can (and must) build engagement along a digital axis to create anticipation and demand for hybrid meetings. In combining creativity and technology, we now have endless possibility to create omnichannel experiences.

We won’t simply recover. We will build back better.

Together with the PCMA team, I look forward to welcoming you to Convening Leaders 2021.

Karen Bolinger is Managing Director, PCMA Asia Pacific


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