The MICE industry has been among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with many events forced to go online. What lies ahead for the industry, and are online events the new norm?
Pre-pandemic, the global MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) industry was a promising growth sector, particularly for emerging markets. MICE events provided opportunities for countries to showcase their facilities and infrastructure to the world at large through regional and international events.
These events in turn created positive ripple effects for local economies, extending beyond the travel and tourism sector to other industries such as food and beverage (F&B), transport, and hospitality.
Singapore for example, had been growing in popularity as a MICE destination for decades, and by 2019 was considered one of the top 10 MICE destinations in the world, and probably one of the top three in Asia. A recently published study, MICE Tourism Market Study 2019-2027, predicted that the industry would more than double by 2027 to over US$5.2 billion, a CAGR of 8.4%.
However, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 and subsequent global lockdowns and travel restrictions, brought the trajectory to a grinding halt. MICE has been one of the worst hit industries by the pandemic and could possibly be one of the last to fully recover.
Thankfully, technology gives reason for denizens of the MICE industry to be hopeful.
Most major conferences and summits switched to digital events in the past year, including the G20 Leaders’ Summit in March 2020 chaired by Saudi Arabia, and the 36th ASEAN Summit hosted by Vietnam via video conference last June. In Africa and the Middle East, the first digital Arab African Mining Conference and Exhibition took place in September. Most of these digital conferences incorporated interactive features for participants to engage with each other and with conference speakers, including chat rooms and one-on-one digital business meeting platforms.
MEDICAL FAIR ASIA (MFA), a leading exhibition for the medical and healthcare industry in the Asia-Pacific, was not spared. In spite of its 25-year record of successful physical trade events across Asia, the organiser of MFA, Messe Düsseldorf Asia (MDA), pivoted to a digital exhibition for MFA’s 2020 iteration.
“The pandemic has challenged the industry to re-evaluate how we think, work and live, and it has a profound impact on social attitudes, geopolitics and technology. Technology has proven fundamental to coping with this disruption,” says Gernot Ringling, Managing Director of MDA.
Based on the first virtual edition of MFA in 2020, Ringling observed several benefits to hosting a virtual event:
Increased accessibility: going online means organisers are able to expand their reach in terms of audience base as well as presenter base, especially for activities that happen concurrently such as conferences and seminars.
Longer-term engagement opportunities: virtual events create opportunities for longer-term engagement with the professional community. In addition to extended event coverage, attendees are able to consume more content on-demand whenever it is convenient for them.
Uptake of online activity: audiences can easily share and re-share key takeaways from product presentations and conference topics on their own social media platforms, which increases engagement and promotes conversation beyond the confines of the event.
PWD-friendly: a virtual or online event allows persons with disabilities (PWDs), often an untapped market, to participate more freely as they now can access content that may have been traditionally limited to a physical setting.
Robust analytics: virtual platforms typically come inbuilt with robust analytics that enable the organiser to measure activity levels on chat channels, and capture locations, viewing times and user engagement, etc. This data is valuable in paving the way for improvements to future editions of the event, whether digital or hybrid.
The pivotal role that technology has played in MICE is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. In fact, the availability of advanced technology and digital infrastructure could possibly become the key criteria in selecting venues for large-scale events in the future, according to Rod Kamleshwaran, who leads the convention and exhibition centre development advisory team at GainingEdge, an international business event organiser.
In his online article, Tracking the Return of the MICE Events Sector in a Covid-19 World, Kamleshwaran predicts a higher focus on smaller domestic events with elevated hygiene and social distancing demands, as well as a higher level of virtual or hybrid events.
“Digitalisation and flexibility of venues will be highly important. Venues will be expected to offer the option for virtual and hybrid events with enhanced technology infrastructure and flexible rooms,” he says.
Other possible trends include multi-location events that are a collection of smaller in-person events in different cities joining online as part of a larger global event – an appealing alternative for attendees who lack confidence to travel and participate in large gatherings.
Although the acceleration of vaccination programmes across the globe is paving the way for international MICE activities to resume, full recovery of the MICE industry will take time, and is contingent upon the public regaining their confidence to travel abroad.
While most experts agree that in-person events can never be fully replaced, there is a growing consensus that Covid-19 is here to stay, and the industry will need to adapt in order to thrive.