WHEN SINGAPORE RAISED ITS ALERT LEVEL IN RESPONSE TO THE POTENTIAL SPREAD OF COVID-19 ON FEB 7 LAST YEAR, EVENT COMPANY HYDSE STARTED RECEIVING CANCELLATIONS OR POSTPONEMENTS OF CONTRACTS.
And while a few events went ahead before the circuit breaker was imposed last April, “June was bad”, said project director Nazran Ahmad.
“In fact, the entire circuit breaker, we took a hit,” he recalled. For about four months from last April, Hydse had only a handful of events, which were mainly virtual, with revenues at about 10 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels.
Casting about for what others were doing, the company saw how some organisers were turning to Zoom and creating online events , especially in other countries. It was not ideal, but it was something.
But, said Mr Nazran, “there was a steep learning curve, and our entire team was constantly learning and researching how other people in other countries did virtual events, experimenting with different tools like Zoom and Webex and building our own virtual platform”.
Last July, when it was clear that Covid-19 was here to stay, clients became more open to the idea of having their events hosted on online platforms.
For instance, Hydse helped to host a Singapore Army career fair online last month, with features such as interactive exhibition booths and the ability to apply for a job via the platform.
Since last August, business has been picking up, with about two events a week.
About 60 per cent of the revenue in the last six months came from a virtual platform developed by the company’s 15 staff, with interactive elements simulating physical spaces like an auditorium and networking rooms.
With virtual events becoming more common, clients are warming to the idea of hybrid events , said Mr Nazran.
“It means overseas attendees that might not have been able to make it can now participate. It breaks borders and truly becomes a conference that everyone can join.”
Hybrid events connect attendees who are online with others who are present in person.
For instance, TravelRevive, a two-day travel industry trade show held last November, was the first physical trade show to be held in Singapore since the Singapore Airshow last February.
About 1,000 people attended in person over the two days. The event was complemented by virtual dimensions such as conferences and an online exhibitor directory.
The meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice) sector came to a standstill when international travel shrank to nothing and curbs on social gatherings forced companies to rethink the viability of their business models.
According to a survey in 2019, the Mice industry supported more than 34,000 jobs, with an economic value-add of $3.8 billion - nearly 1 per cent of Singapore’s gross domestic product.
Business travellers also spend almost double what leisure travellers do, making them high-yield visitors.
While hybrid events do not generate the same receipts for the economy, there is growing consensus that they could pave the way to recovery, although pre-Covid-19 levels are not expected within the year, said industry players.
Last September, recognising that such events were here to stay, the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (Saceos), which represents the Mice industry in Singapore, released guidelines on holding hybrid events for its Event Industry Resilience Roadmap.
A recent survey of more than 350 event organisers from the Asia-Pacific region commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board and Saceos found that 91 per cent plan to transform their future events into hybrid ones.
But the vast majority - or 81 per cent - said they were “still learning and exploring how to get it done”.
The report also noted that generating revenue from online engagement remains a challenge, with a discrepancy between how much people are willing to pay for a physical versus a digital event.
Nonetheless, industry players do not expect hybrid events to cease, even when circumstances allow conventional meetings to take place again.
Mr Aloysius Arlando, president of Saceos, said: “I think it might be too premature to assume the digital platform is a stop-gap measure.”
The trend is for events to not be tied to a single time and place, he said. “The challenge that comes with this is the need to reskill ourselves.”
Event organisers and venue managers are familiar with conduct at physical events, but different considerations come into play on digital platforms, such as how to make sure online engagement is captivating and to avoid “webinar fatigue”, he said.
Mr Edward Liu, the group managing director of Conference & Exhibition Management Services, feels that hybrid events will be most appropriate while travel remains limited.
Unfortunately, though the event industry was relatively quick to pivot to virtual solutions, it is likely that not all companies will be able to stay afloat .
Associate Professor Lawrence Loh from the National University of Singapore Business School said consolidation in the Mice sector is inevitable. “Many players are probably already mulling over options going forward.”
Much will depend on the global situation, he said. It does not help that Covid-19 cases in many countries have been escalating recently, some with serious resurgent waves of infections.
“It is very likely that the returns for event organisers will remain depressed for the next one to two years, even with the progress of mitigating measures such as mass vaccination,” he said.
Remember that testing a business continuity plan is not about passing or failing – it is about improving processes to give your business the best possible chance of dealing with disruption.
Read the above article about how the MICE industry cope with the pandemic as it impacted its bottom-line.
Are there lessons learnt here that you can apply to your industry? If so, what are they? Share your point of view with a colleague, and then with the class.