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Covid-19: Business events such as conferences held in person and virtually may be too costly, say industry players

SINGAPORE — A total of 90 business event pilots, held since August last year, have avoided any Covid-19 outbreaks. However, some industry players are unsure about the viability of holding such events as hybrids of face-to-face and virtual interaction, which is the format most of them have taken.

Participants at the Singapore Mice Forum x IBTM Wired event on June 28, 2021.

Participants at the Singapore Mice Forum x IBTM Wired event on June 28, 2021.

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  • 90 business event pilots held since August last year have avoided Covid-19 outbreaks
  • The STB has increased the number of physical attendees permitted to 250 since June 14
  • Most pilot events are a hybrid of physical and virtual interaction
  • Some industry players are worried this hybrid is too costly, and not viable


SINGAPORE — A total of 90 business event pilots, held since August last year, have avoided any Covid-19 outbreaks. However, some industry players are unsure about the viability of holding such events as hybrids of face-to-face and virtual interaction, which is the format most of them have taken.

Mr Aloysius Arlando, president of the Singapore Association for Conventions & Exhibitions Organisers and Suppliers (Saceos), said: “For the pilot events, in terms of establishing a controlled environment, we can manage it pretty well. And secondly, (the pilot event) validates the hybrid proposition.

“What it does not do yet, and this is what we hope to do in the next wave of events after we come out of Phase Three (heightened alert), is the viability. So the jury's still out as to whether or not we can have (hybrid) events be financially sustainable,” he said

In July last year, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) launched the Safe Business Events Framework of up to 50 attendees for business events such as meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) that had been put on hold since March last year. The Mice industry includes trade shows.

This risk management framework was first trialled at two hybrid pilot events last August and September — the 2020 IEEE International Conference on Computational Electromagnetics and the Asia Pacific MedTech Virtual Forum 2020.

Both events featured a maximum of 50 on-site attendees, in addition to about 1,000 attendees taking part virtually.

With effect from June 14, Mice event pilots have been permitted to have up to 250 participants at a time, with mandatory pre-event testing for all participants, including residents and foreigners, except for exempted individuals.

Pre-event testing will not be required for Mice events with 50 or fewer participants unless specially required by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

For foreign delegates, Singapore has made special travel arrangements with some countries to safeguard public health.

Foreign delegates from these countries may submit their request to enter Singapore through such arrangements to attend approved Mice pilot events. While here, they have to stick to a controlled itinerary and must pre-declare their movements and adhere to certain movement restrictions.

Mr Arlando said: “As you can imagine, because of the safe management measures (of) the space distancing, what would have taken a smaller space to accommodate, say, 50 or 200 people is now multiplied.

"You can imagine the real estate and the number of people coming in to support it, so we need to crack the code to what can be a viable model, co-existing with the safety requirements of a safe event.” 

When asked about a possible solution to the high cost of hybrid events, Mr Arlando said that data is emerging from the pilot events and different organisers are working with their partners to “come to some form of equilibrium for them to determine whether the price is right”.

“Because at the end of the day, it is a customer who will then decide and ascribe a value. Is the money that (the customer is) paying worthy?

“If you pay a little bit more but I'm going to give you a lot of opportunities to network, give you qualified leads for you to build upon, give you great content that you can consume anytime, anywhere... maybe it's worthwhile.” 

Ultimately, it depends on the event or the industry that the event serves, to see what the reception is like and whether the price is right, he added.

Mr Arlando was speaking to TODAY on the sidelines of the Singapore Mice Forum x IBTM Wired event on Monday. 

At the event, STB, the Professional Convention Management (PCMA) and the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) launched a white paper on how the Mice industry around the world has transformed and the steps taken to re-open safely.

The white paper reported that business events are bouncing back and revenues are picking up, with the exhibitions industry expected to register global revenues 106 per cent higher than 2020 figures, with regions also set to see significant growth from last year.

The Asia Pacific is expected to record a 121 per cent revenue jump compared with last year.

The white paper also explored three major areas that business events players need to reimagine as they prepare for recovery, including business models, delegate experience, and talent and capabilities.

After a panel discussion on the white paper, Mr Veemal Gungadin, founder and chief executive officer of GEVME, an event technology service provider that has powered seven pilot events, told TODAY that running a hybrid event bears the cost of running two events.

“Hybrid means physical and digital at the same time, (and) the cost of running that sometime last year was two to three times as compared to if the same type of event for the same amount of attendees was to be done just physically,” he said.

However, costs are now going down even though they still cost more overall.

When asked if higher costs will be passed to the participants, such as increasing ticket prices, Mr Gungadin said that it will be difficult to increase ticket prices since higher prices would mean lower attendance.

“What is more likely to happen is that costs have to further go down. Venues are now providing integrated hybrid studio capabilities. With more such venues, competition will increase and prices will go down,” he said.

He added that the hybrid mode also gives the potential to reach a wider audience as there can be unlimited virtual participants.

“So while ticket prices can effectively be lower, overall revenue can go up. Also, bigger attendance through hybrid (events) means better return on investment for sponsors. Hence revenue from sponsors will go up.”

For Mr Mel Shah, vice-president of Asia at Dmg Events, which hosted the Asia Clean Energy Summit hybrid event last October, the investment perspective as far as the hybrid format is concerned should not be seen as an added cost, but as a cost that is here to service all attendees who will attend virtually for the moment.

“I think that's a mindset perspective... the new normal, the new format of trade fairs and events will be (hybrid) for some time and possibly the future.

"So, ensuring that global attendees can dial in and access your event virtually is not very much an added cost, but it is a new profit and cost line that needs to be facilitated.

“The hybrid mode gives us trade fair and event organisers the opportunity to present our companies that are participating and their products and solutions to a much wider global audience. And I think that needs to be integrated well... and if you're able to communicate that clearly to clients, clients are following us and investing accordingly,” Mr Shah said.

Related topics

events STB business Mice Covid-19 hybrid new normal

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