Is it Business as Usual for Post-Pandemic MICE?
Updated: Aug 27
How the adoption of digital technology and inflation is expected to shape and affect the MICE industry as travel restrictions ease up.
As countries move towards COVID-19 being endemic and ease international travel restrictions, MICE industry players are much more optimistic about the future.
Based on UFI, Explori and SISO’s Global Recovery Insights report, exhibitions in Asia are likely to see stronger growth in participation from both visitors and exhibitors, compared to the rest of the world. Asian exhibitors are now more optimistic about their budgets, and the number of events they are planning to participate in has nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels, compared to 2019.
As one of the leading MICE destinations in Asia, Singapore has resumed hosting regional and international events since early 2022. According to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), more than 37,000 delegates have attended over 150 events in the first quarter of 2022 alone, compared to 200 events attended by 49,000 delegates in 2021. With 66 more international events lined up from June to December, these numbers are projected to increase.
Growing optimism for in-person events
Participation for in-person events was already growing in mid-2021, amidst the high uptake of vaccines across the globe. A regional white paper presented in June 2021 indicated optimism was growing in the MICE industry sector, with 69% of event planners and 64% of suppliers feeling optimistic in mid-2021 compared to less than 50% of both categories in January of that year.
Some 77% of suppliers and 63% of event planners surveyed by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) also revealed that attending in-person events were worth the additional precautions and safety measures.
One of the unique aspects of the in-person experience at these shows is the organic way visitors and exhibitors interact between or after sessions, and during dinners, which cannot be replicated at digital or online events.
The constant use of online or web-based tools to perform day-to-day tasks during the pandemic, from meeting with co-workers, friends and family, to making grocery purchases, as well as attending social or work events, conferences and seminars, has contributed to a phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue” or “webinar fatigue”. Researchers say this has led to increased environmental demands associated with near-constant elevated levels of physiological activation, heightened attention, and increased pressure to respond and perform remotely with higher efficiency, restlessness, anxiety, and inability to relax.
“Zoom fatigue” or “webinar fatigue” has inflicted about 75% of people who use two or more gadgets simultaneously, and 53% of people who use one gadget at a time, and appears to be a strong motivator for people to reconnect during in-person events once physical restrictions are eased.
Gernot Ringling, Managing Director of Messe Dűsseldorf Asia (MDA), the organiser of the region’s leading trade exhibition for the medical and healthcare industry, MEDICAL FAIR ASIA (MFA) 2022, agrees, “I think that after more than two years of virtual meetings, digital events and conferences, the business community is hungry for physical events. Many people are looking forward to conducting business and networking face-to-face again.”
This year’s iteration of MFA will be one of the first regional industry events to be held in Singapore since the easing of travel restrictions in the city-state. Pre-event numbers demonstrate strong support from the medical and healthcare industry from all over the world; to date, more than 700 exhibitors from 50 countries have signed up for the show, with 2,500 visitors registering in July when online registration opened.
Opportunity for innovation
The enforcement of travel and social-distancing restrictions during the pandemic has left the MICE industry no choice but to embrace digital technology at an unprecedented scale.
“One of the crucial lessons we learned in order to thrive after the pandemic, is that we must continue using digital technology to extend the show’s reach to exhibitors and visitors who for various reasons are unable to travel; whether these reasons are a matter of logistics, or mandated by their governments. However, while digital technology can enhance and complement a physical event, a digital show will never be able to substitute a physical event,” shares Ringling.
“This is why for the very first time, this year’s iteration of MEDICAL FAIR ASIA will be in the ‘phy-gital’ format, where in addition to the exhibition and conferences on the show floor, exhibitors and visitors can continue engaging with each other online for an extended period after the physical event, from anywhere in the world.”
One of the digital components which will be available one month ahead of MFA 2022 is access to exclusive content and webinars, as well as scheduling capabilities which enable visitors to book appointments with exhibitors ahead of time. The digital exhibition extends beyond the 'live' exhibition, and will run online till 9 September.
Simultaneously, the 5th MEDICAL MANUFACTURING ASIA (MMA) edition will run alongside MFA, offering a synergistic platform for the medical and healthcare sector. Focused on manufacturing processes for medical technology, visitors will also be able to access technical presentations by exhibitors using the digital platform.
“These components will not only enhance our customer or visitor experience, but also provide added value to our international exhibitors,” adds Ringling.
Inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, and other issues
While COVID-19 seems more manageable now than two years ago, there are growing concerns about rising global inflation, and how it can curtail the growth of the travel industry, particularly the business travel segment.
Global inflation is projected to increase to 6.7% in 2022, twice the average of 2.9% recorded between 2010 to 2020, with headline inflation in the United States reaching the highest level in four decades. As such, the costs of organising and hosting an exhibition or conference are expected to rise, while the number of MICE event attendees is expected to fall due to rising airfares and room rates.
Disruptions in the supply chain are creating severe lags on trade activity at a global level. COVID-related production issues and labour shortage have hampered supply chains in the last two years, followed by the unprecedented surge in demand for goods towards the end of 2021. Along with transportation bottlenecks due to quarantine and travel restrictions, it has pushed up transportation costs and the cost of importing and exporting goods. This has made it more expensive for companies participating in international exhibitions to showcase their products abroad compared to pre-pandemic.
On the other hand, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), says that pent-up demand is trumping inflationary hikes in travel costs. Businesses are encouraging their employees to travel again, and companies seem willing to pay for the hike in travel costs in a bid to expand into new markets.
GBTA’s June Business Travel Recovery Poll reveals in-person meetings are on the top of the list for where companies are allocating their business travel spend in 2022, which includes customer and prospect meetings, conferences, exhibitions, and trade shows, as well as internal meetings with colleagues. Spending for conferences specifically, as part of overall business travel spend, is expected to be up 4 percentage points in 2022 compared to 2019.
“While rising inflation and increased travel costs will no doubt have an impact on the number of participants in international exhibitions, there are many companies and businesses that will continue to send their employees to international meetings and events to conduct business. For exhibitors or visitors who are unable to join us physically, they always have the option of participating online.
“Even despite these issues and travel restrictions from China, which makes up a sizeable portion of our participants, we are confident of hitting at least 80% of the pre-pandemic level of participation at MEDICAL FAIR ASIA 2022, a sign the industry is on its way to recovery,” shares Ringling.
For more information on MEDICAL FAIR ASIA 2022, visit https://www.medicalfair-asia.com/
Article is written by Account Director Hyma Haridas