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Through COVID-19 and beyond: STB, PCMA and UFI launch white paper to reimagine the future of business events

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Report highlights key pillars and case studies to support industry transformation, with signs of strong recovery in the Asia-Pacific and a greater appetite for digital and hybrid events.

SINGAPORE – Singapore Tourism Board (STB), Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and UFI (The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry) have partnered to launch a white paper titled “Reimagining Business Events – Through COVID-19 and Beyond”.

Launched at the first hybrid Singapore MICE Forum x IBTM Wired at Marina Bay Sands on 28 June 2021, the white paper is the first such collaboration between a destination and leading associations representing the exhibitions, conventions and meetings industry. It takes stock of how various sectors within the industry have transformed in response to COVID-19, and consolidates ideas from around the world to help business event organisers rethink their offerings and operations.

Impact of COVID-19
The business events sector supported nearly 26 million jobs and contributed US$1.5 trillion to global GDP in 20171, which would rank it as the 13th largest economy globally, surpassing those of Australia, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. In Singapore, the MICE sector supported more than 34,000 direct and indirect jobs, with a value-add of S$3.8 billion, or close to 1 per cent of Singapore’s GDP.

COVID-19 changed all that. In 2020, the global travel and hospitality suffered a staggering loss of US$935 billion, with the business events industry among the worst hit. The onset of the pandemic was a wake-up call for the industry, heavily dependent on physical interaction, to reinvent itself. According to PCMA’s COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard survey (January 2021)2, the overall willingness to travel remains mixed, with 44 per cent of planners and 23 per cent of suppliers unwilling to travel.

However, there is cause for optimism. The same survey showed that 25 per cent of planners and 31 per cent of suppliers were willing to travel any distance necessary if the program was worth it. And for those who attended a recent physical event, 63 per cent of planners and 77 per cent of suppliers said it was worth all the additional precautions and safety measures and would do so again. More planners and suppliers are feeling hopeful - 69 per cent of planners and 64 per cent of suppliers shared this sentiment in June 20213, compared to 48 per cent and 47 per cent respectively in January 20214.

Revenues have also started to pick up in the exhibitions sector, which is expected to grow globally by 106 per cent this year compared to 20205.

An evolving mindset across Asia-Pacific
As the industry plots a recovery from COVID-19, the white paper highlights strong indications of growth and innovation in the Asia-Pacific. Data from the upcoming “Global Recovery Insights Report”6 by UFI, Explori and Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) show that exhibitions in Asia are likely to see stronger growth in participation from both visitors and exhibitors, compared to the rest of the world.

There is also a stronger appetite for digital or hybrid events from respondents in Asia – they are more than twice as likely to have participated in such events than respondents from other regions. Furthermore, the number of events they are planning to exhibit at has recovered to its pre-pandemic levels, when compared with pre-pandemic research data from 2019.

PCMA’s APAC Dashboard Survey7 reflects similar findings. A greater proportion of planners in Asia Pacific (38 per cent) were planning to simultaneously stream their in-person events to virtual audiences, compared to their North American counterparts (17 per cent). Of the APAC respondents planning a hybrid 2021 event, nearly 80 per cent planned for their in-person and virtual audiences to interact, compared with 27 per cent of North American planners.

Learning from global leaders
Beyond digitalisation, the white paper highlights three innovation pillars to successfully reimagine the industry: Business Models; Delegate Experience; and Talent & Capabilities.

STB, PCMA and UFI obtained perspectives from international industry practitioners who embraced and exemplified these considerations, adopted a growth mindset and piloted successful concepts. The case studies from Singapore, Australia, Italy and the United States include those from event planners and organisers, venue and tour operators, industry and trade associations and a multi-sector recovery taskforce.

For example, the Italian Society of Anaesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care worked with AIM Group International to redefine the format of their annual congress. They organised a roadshow across eight Italian cities using a truck that housed a studio, from which content was broadcast on big screens. This enabled the society to meet and deliver content safely to its members in person, including healthcare partners on the frontlines of the pandemic.

The case studies also underscore the need for business event professionals to cultivate skills in high-demand areas including broadcasting, content production and cyber security. To facilitate knowledge sharing in Singapore, the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) developed a Strategic Narratives & Digital Content Marketing Masterclass and also partnered the National Trades Union Congress to establish the MICE and Events Capability Building Network(8), which aims to share best practices across industries.

Mr Keith Tan, Chief Executive, Singapore Tourism Board, said: “The pandemic has emphasised the need to innovate and be nimble in the business events sector. This journey of transformation is not a sprint, but a marathon that extends beyond the pandemic. As Singapore gradually scales up our capacity for larger business events, we hope that resources such as this white paper will continue to guide our local MICE industry to build new capabilities and reimagine the future of business events.”

Mr Sherrif Karamat, Certified Association Executive, President and CEO, PCMA, said: “Our success in emerging from the pandemic is dependent on our ability to solve the transformational challenges of our audiences. The pandemic forced us to look at how we deliver on what our audiences need and what they want to be successful for the future. While the pandemic has changed the way our audiences engage with business events, it has not altered their desired outcomes from these events.”

Mr Kai Hattendorf, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, UFI, said: “Business event companies and their customers across Asia-Pacific have shown themselves to be more open to digital business developments than their global peer group. And looking forward, exhibitors in Asia are now much more optimistic about their budgets than they were in summer 2020. We hope that this white paper is useful in showing some of the approaches and opportunities that lie ahead for business events as the fastest of all fast tracks for economic recovery.”


1 Data from the Events Industry Council. PCMA and other industry organisations intend to collaborate on an updated report in late 2021.
2 Survey was conducted with 419 planners and 219 suppliers (Jan 2021). https://www.pcma.org/hybrid-business-events-recovery-dashboard-results-january-2021/
3 Survey was conducted with 119 event planners and 45 suppliers (June 2021). https://www.pcma.org/events-recovery-efforts-new-business-models-covid-19/
4 Survey was conducted with 419 planners and 219 suppliers (Jan 2021). https://www.pcma.org/hybrid-business-events-recovery-dashboard-results-january-2021/
5 26th UFI Global Exhibitions Barometer, based on data from 457 exhibition industry companies globally. https://www.ufi.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/26th_UFI_Global_Barometer_january_2021.pdf
6 Survey of 14,000 trade show visitors and exhibitors conducted in Summer 2020 and Spring 2021.
7 Survey was conducted with 184 event planners and suppliers (April 2021): https://www.pcma.org/apac-survey-business-events-recovery-start-locally/
8 MICE & Events Capability Building Network is supported by STB, Enterprise Singapore, Workforce Singapore and SkillsFuture Singapore. It aims to bring together public and private sector entities and educational institutions to develop new and refreshed career paths for MICE professionals, including freelancers and self-employed individuals, and create relevant training
programmes.

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