Amid global travel restrictions, social distancing protocols and prohibitions on mass gatherings, the world’s meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment has been forced to adapt to the coronavirus context, with some events shifting online and others being deferred.
Before the outbreak of the virus – and the subsequent introduction of travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines – the MICE segment had presented a promising growth avenue for emerging markets seeking to diversify their tourism offering.
For example, earlier this year DCT Abu Dhabi announced a Dh600m ($163.3m) fund to attract business and entertainment events to the emirate. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia – the host of the 2020 G20 Leaders’ Summit in November, along with more than 10,000 other MICE events per year – has invested approximately $1.6bn in hosting facilities since 2016.
MICE events traditionally provide an opportunity for emerging markets to showcase their facilities, infrastructure and unique offering not only to visitors, but also to the wider business community and the world at large.
When Papua New Guinea hosted the 2018 APEC Leaders’ Summit, for instance, visitors were invited to share their experiences with specific hashtags on social media as a cost-effective solution to advertise positive experiences of the country with an engaged audience.
Global summits and the pandemic
Some headline events have been postponed until after the coronavirus crisis subsides, including the UN climate change summit, COP26, which has been intended to serve as the deadline for countries to meet emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Climate Change agreement.
Initially planned for October this year, the event was rescheduled to November 2021 in order to enable countries to first focus their resources on tackling the current health crisis.
However, as much of the global workforce has shifted into the digital sphere, so have global governmental and multilateral bodies continued to hold key summits online.
Major recent virtual events have included the extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit in March, chaired by Saudi Arabia with the aim of coordinating Covid-19 response strategies. Elsewhere, the 36th ASEAN Summit was hosted by Vietnam via video conferencing in June, where representatives discussed post-pandemic recovery plans within the region.
Upcoming virtual events
Furthermore, some conferences and exhibitions have been rearranged as virtual events later this year.
In Africa and the Middle East, the end of September will see the first virtual Arab African Mining Conference and Exhibition. Participating nations will include Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the event aims to leverage digital resources to enhance attendee experience both before and during the event.
Ahead of the event, participants can learn about the wider extractives landscape and review a range of potential investment opportunities in the region via the digital mining platform, i-MINE. During the event, attendees can not only listen to content being broadcast live from Africa and the Middle East, but also arrange one-on-one virtual business meetings.
In Nigeria the fifth annual edition of the Kaduna Investment Summit, KADINVEST 5.0, had been scheduled to take place in April. After initially being postponed indefinitely, the event will now be held as a webinar in September with a focus on fostering innovation, as well as encouraging investment in industry and infrastructure development.
Elsewhere, events have been restructured as a blend of online and offline experiences to minimise physical contact.
The 2020 Mining Investment London conference and exhibition, originally planned for September, will now take place as both an in-person conference and virtual event in December, while its Asia instalment has been tentatively scheduled to go ahead in the regular format in Singapore, which has cautiously begun to loosen Covid-19 restrictions, in November.
Thailand, meanwhile, is continuing to host physical events with numerous health and safety protocols in place – evidence of the appetite that remains for regular operations.
Future of the MICE segment
As with the majority of Covid-19-related adaptations, it remains to be seen whether changes within the MICE segment will remain once the health threat has subsided.
“A swift pivot to online platforms can virtually bridge some of the interactive gaps caused by restrictions on mass congregations, and should therefore help to soften the blow of Covid-19 on the MICE segment,” Ed Gallinero, managing director at PCM Asia, which hosts investment-focused events for industry professionals, told OBG.
Looking further ahead, the early appetite to return to traditional events – with the opportunity for in-person networking and an atmosphere that is difficult to replicate online – should reassure industry players of a rebound once coronavirus-related restrictions are eased.
“The sector – which, in Asia Pacific, is a key driver of not only economic growth but also regional alliance – will eventually be able to get back on track with a concerted effort from the sector’s stakeholders,” Gallinero added.
Are virtual events here to stay?
Regardless of the appeal of traditional events, a virtual strategy enables exhibitors and speakers to use cost-effective means to reach a wider audience without the need for participants to travel.
It may therefore be unsurprising to see a broader range of events offering a remote attendance option in the future, particularly as the global population continues to become more familiar with online communications software and live streaming technologies.
This may provide a buffer against COVID-19-related cancellations in the medium term, as some countries may yet need to retighten restrictions during the recovery period. Furthermore, these options can be monetised and thereby also offer an additional revenue stream to help event industry players in their recovery efforts.
To some degree, a blended approach could also enable emerging markets to use technology effectively to showcase their facilities, infrastructure and unique offering to an even wider audience, and help further raise their profile on the global economic stage.OBG