December 6, 2021 | By Matt Pearce | Produced in partnership with the Asia Pacific Meetings and Incentives Event

CEO of Talk2Media and Events, Matt Pearce

Over the past two years, it’s safe to say that the business events community has spent much of its time waiting for the opportunity to run events. Throughout, we were thwarted by travel restrictions, border restrictions, density limits. All making it next to impossible to deliver successful business events.

While uncertainty in our post-pandemic world still remains, there is no doubt that there is ever-growing excitement, enthusiasm and commitment to return our industry to its former glory.

As we enter 2022 there are a few ingredients that will contribute to our success, and I look forward to watching and being part of the regeneration efforts as we revive and then evolve into 2023.

Flexibility and travel bubbles

While the challenges for domestic and international travel may vary, they share the same question: “What do I want from my destination and what lengths will my participants need to go through to get there?”

If delegates are attending a two-day conference, they’re not going to want to spend 7, 10 or 14 days in quarantine regardless of the destination, be it interstate or international. Our delegates are busy people – time is of the essence.

Flexibility is key and is rapidly becoming expected across the supply chain. Qantas are offering far higher degrees of flexibility now and destinations, venues, and suppliers are all being expected to build in greater flexibility. No longer is the events world set and forget. We’re not all there yet and I know there is plenty of discussion by some, looking for a premium to offer flexibility. Longer-term, I believe that this will be table stakes.

Just a couple of months ago, Australia was the butt of jokes in US and Europe for being so draconian in its lockdowns and its approach to COVID-19. Now, as much of Europe goes back to restrictions and masks, it looks as though we are the poster-child on vaccination levels! Predictions are rapidly turning out to be informed guesses.

Travel bubbles, whilst a little fluid (NZ has been on-again/off-again for months) do give us some advantages. Bubbles with countries that appear to have managed the pandemic favourably, are strong contenders for leveraging opportunities, booking events and reinstating business confidence. We already have Singapore venues booking at AIME for 2022, so they are seeing the potential.

Singapore is open, Japan and South Korea are on the table from next week. The small steps toward recovery are already showing a closed world starting to open.

Power of personal responsibility

The longer the pandemic has gone on, the more we have been told what to do and how to do it. Some guidance is important, but the constant dictates become tiresome. Surely personal responsibility must play a greater role. In our world, if we are travelling for business then there is an implicit responsibility for us all to cancel travel if feeling unwell and not put others at risk.

For business events we are all required to have COVID-safe plans. We need to train our staff, be ready to handle any situation that arises, work with potential border closures and the ever-evolving restrictions being reimposed.

At the core of all our planning is concern for the welfare and wellbeing of our delegates, exhibitors and indeed anyone involved with the event. Our role is to ensure everyone is empowered with the tools to feel safe and empower personal responsibility.

At times over the last 20 months, it’s felt like this responsibility has been abrogated to the state by some. Whether it is getting tested if you are feeling unwell or avoiding busy exhibition halls if you’re not 100 percent – we have to work on the basis that all our stakeholders will take their role seriously. We can have all the rules we like but if there is deliberate poor behaviour then it becomes futile.

The future of hybrid events

Twenty months ago, online events became all we could experience. We were grateful that there was an option. Engagement was lower but at times overall numbers were higher. Online became the future. Then we started to understand the limitations of being purely online and the notion of hybrid events evolved.

From anecdotal feedback within my network, I can confidently say delegates are eager to be reunited face to face. There is no substitute for in person interactions. Physical events offer unparalleled opportunities to create connections, build networks and experience what destinations have on offer. The consensus is that more is achieved when everyone comes together.

That’s not to say that hybrid events don’t have a place in the future of business events. For instance, an international buyer (or seller) who is unable to travel may be happy to participate online. In this situation, it is important that online event components understand what they are trying to achieve. It’s not always beneficial or practical to try to replicate the in-person event.

In the year ahead, event managers will need to get creative to ensure the online experience can deliver ROI. At AIME 22, where the show will be taking place in-person and online, the team have been working behind the scenes to ensure that the online event, which happens the week after AIME in Melbourne, has key metrics behind what it can offer. In our case strong business matching and business appointments are key and are at the core of the offer.

Online content becomes secondary. As for online networking, I’ve yet to see it work.