Virtual, physical and hybrid business events to suit different needs

By Gerardine Donough-Tan

The prolonged pandemic has disrupted business events and left many convention and exhibition centres (CECs) empty. Now that economic activity is resuming, how are CECs picking up the slack?

Venues have to deliver virtual and hybrid meeting solutions and define new business models to sustain themselves, said Alan Pryor, general manager, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC). “Flexibility, agility and adaptability have become the most crucial traits for survival and continued market presence. Up-skilling and re-skilling within the industry supply chain has been accelerated, and innovative cost-containment measures applied,” he said.

Virtual host of World Tunnel Congress (Digital) 2020

Originally scheduled for May, the World Tunnel Congress 2020 became a digital event when business events in Malaysia were allowed to resume in July. The 15-member IT team developed a user-friendly, cloud-hosted virtual event platform that allowed live streams worldwide. This involved system development, database design, programming 3D design, cloud-hosting server services, API integration for registration, and rehearsal and trouble-shooting.

With international audiences in different time zones, live sessions followed Malaysian time, and recorded sessions were made available after. The congress program was from September 11 to 17 but enthusiastic response led to it being made available on-demand until September 23.

Some 1100 delegates from 54 countries attended the ‘live’ congress, with 16,000 visits to 262 technical papers and 8000 visits to 80 virtual exhibitors.

Physical exhibitions resume – with caution

KLCC is partnering organisers to help revive trade and consumer shows in a safe and controlled manner. A major differentiator in the new normal is the pre-planning and execution in line with the implementation, adherence, monitoring and compliance with standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the venue and industry.

“The primary objective is to provide comprehensive guidelines to ensure a safe environment for exhibitors and visitors. For exhibitors, pre-planning, build-up phase, event execution and break-down require SOP compliance at every stage. Visitor SOPs pertain to physical distancing, contactless interaction and transactions with fellow visitors and exhibitors,” Mr Pryor explained.

Informa Markets’ inaugural Beautylife Bonanza from October 1 to 3 sought to help players return to the market with confidence. Exhibitor and visitor SOP videos on the event website gave attendees advance information on requirements.

Hybrid events

Participants may attend events in person or virtually. KLCC and Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau co-hosted the IAPCO PCO Continued Professional Development Programme in a hybrid format to show how training can be successfully executed.

Participants who were physically present on August 27 experienced the delegate journey from arrival at the venue to the end of the event. In the virtual component, strong Internet connection and slick transition ensured a smooth journey for speakers and delegates. All panel speakers – physically present and online – appeared virtually through a web-conferencing platform.

Valuable insights

KLCC reported clients saying they feel safe and confident to use the venue but are concerned about securing a budget that covers new meeting and event designs and formats, and getting adequate participation to make the event financially viable.

Mr Pryor commented that CECs must be agile and adaptable as venues are currently dependent on instructions from government authorities, while keeping in mind people’s safety and well-being.

“The best we can do right now is unlearn everything we knew about organising an event and re-learn what is required and provide the necessary support to clients and delegates, with an uncompromised adherence to new-norm event SOPs and guidelines,” he said.