As the pandemic anxiety in Hong Kong recedes amid the relaxation of social distancing rules, local business sentiment is improving, with the help of measures such as the Consumption Voucher Scheme.
That sounds like good news to the hard-hit MICE industry. After the pandemic put a stop to face-to-face events more than a year ago, the industry explored new ways to meet demand for brand activation and audience-brand engagement, such as by shifting audience experience safely online or offering an increasingly ‘integrated experience’ – a seamless confluence of live physical and online content. These new product models helped the industry survive the pandemic; but with the worst of the emergency over, is it time to focus on preparing for a return to in-person events?
The answer is ‘no’. The new product models, and especially the integrated experience, are not merely stopgap measures or an outgrowth of contingency planning. Online and integrated experiences are plainly here to stay, in part due to their inherent applicability during future crises. Like the pandemic, we probably won’t see the crises coming – which is why we should always treat predictions with healthy scepticism.
As things are, though economic activity in Hong Kong has seen some improvement, it is still below pre-recession levels, and even the predictions aren’t entirely rosy. As shown in advance estimates on GDP for second quarter of 2021 released by the government in late July, the economic recovery of Hong Kong is slightly slower than expected and remains uneven: GDP rose by 7.5% from a year earlier, following 8% growth in the prior quarter.
Furthermore, the OECD’s latest Economic Outlook projects that global income at the end of 2022 will be around US$3 trillion less than was expected before the pandemic.
Other reasons why online and integrated will stay around are the same as before the pandemic: the experiences they offer can be both memorably distinctive and shared by a potentially unlimited audience, helping brands secure an impressive event ROI. The industry and market had already been moving in their direction, and the crisis merely accelerated the shift.
Virtual will become even more of a mainstay when the digital natives of Gen Z and Gen Alpha grow into consumer market dominance. At that point, offering a choice of participating in live events either in person or via a laptop or mobile device will become a best practice. Further development of the model will very much be in line with their expectations, habits and needs.
It is already obvious that agencies who embrace the integrated experience will be the most likely to sustain their business in the long term – but with one caveat; their success will hinge on whether they can actually deliver what they embrace. That – and even capturing future opportunities – will require fundamental organisational change.
In the past, MICE industry agencies were specialised ‘live event production experts’, ‘digital marketing strategists’ and so on. When it comes to planning and delivering integrated events, however, the process becomes hugely more intricate, complex and blurry. Input is required from a wider spectrum of creative, marketing, analytic, digital, technical and administrative talent, as well as a whole new level of coordination. Just as the boundaries between analogue and digital are erased, so will be the traditional boundaries between offices, teams and individual skill sets. As a matter of necessity, nobody can afford their own silo any longer.
The changes already underway may seem challenging, but it is worth noting that change is nothing new to the MICE industry; it is fast-changing by nature, requiring its professionals to continuously redefine and reimagine how to engage with audiences. As usual, the next industry renaissance will be led by those who can meet challenges with resilience.