Tracking the Return of the MICE Events Sector in a Covid-19 World

Cheerful middle aged chinese man in headphones has video call on pc, makes notes in cabinet interior. Businessman has business meeting remotely, online lesson webinar, social distancing due covid-19

After months of lockdown, many countries are now seeing a gradual re-opening of its events sector. This is not limited to just countries that have suppressed Covid-19, but also many where the situation remains uncertain as they face a second wave of cases.

There is a consensus emerging that Covid-19 is here to stay and the world has to figure out how to live with it, at least until a vaccine is found. This may be months or even years. So, the new norm is a world with Covid-19 until we transition to a stable Post Covid-19 world probably not before 2022.

For most countries re-opening this sector, the focus is on domestic conference and exhibition events. However, some destinations in Europe as well as the Caribbean, China, Taiwan and UAE have progressed to events with international attendees from approved countries.

China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Greece, Spain, Italy, UK, Switzerland and Norway are just some of the countries that have opened up their venues or announced imminent opening.

So how do events look like in the Covid-19 World? Images from New Zealand and Taiwan of full capacity stadiums and exhibitions halls may suggest it doesn’t look much different to Pre Covid-19. These countries have ostensibly eliminated Covid-19 and have opened up their domestic markets with almost no restrictions. However, for most other countries still battling Covid-19, venues are opening with new protocols such as thermal temperature screening, face masks, frequent disinfection of high use areas, and social distancing in high concentration areas of the building.

Even with the regulatory barriers on the opening of venues and borders removed, the recovery is going to be dependent on consumers and businesses having confidence that destinations and venues are safe to visit.

Events organised by Government agencies (e.g. trade shows) are often leading the reopening in efforts to create confidence. As the first region to encounter COVID-19, Asia is also now leading the re-opening of economies and venues.

Surveys are finding optimism growing among destinations. Optimism for both business and leisure travel continues to increase, with about 40% of those studied in a recent US survey, expecting to travel during the next six months (McKinsey & Company).

In this Covid-19 World, MICE events will behave differently to the past. Whilst recovery will differ country by country, we can expect common themes. There will be a higher focus on smaller domestic events with elevated hygiene and social distancing demands and a higher level of virtual or hybrid events. Social distancing, when required, is easier to handle with exhibitions than conferences. This suggests more exhibitions before conferences. It is expected that younger people will travel first. Travel will involve nearby destinations.

Digitisation and flexibility of venues will be highly important. Covid-19 will significantly accelerate digital trends. Venues will be expected to offer the option for virtual and hybrid events with enhanced technology infrastructure and flexible rooms. In this transition phase, some events may go fully virtual while others go hybrid.

Hybrid events include the main event with in-person attendance complemented by additional virtual attendees and speakers. Future options may include multi-location events that are a collection of in-person events in different cities joining online to form a larger global event. This would allow in-person attendance in a local or regional destination avoiding large scale gatherings. This may be appealing in the current phase as attendees lack confidence for travel and large gatherings.

In-person interaction remains powerful and unlikely to be dominantly replaced by virtual events anytime soon. In-person events are attractive for commercial and networking reasons. It is more plausible that in the stable Post Covid-19 World most events return as in-person events with a significant proportion as hybrid events. Indeed, some events, especially small meetings may be candidates for permanent virtual only events.

Venues located in safe destinations, offering modern flexible spaces and advanced technology are likely to be more attractive for large scale international events.

Other trends may include:

  • New certifications, accreditations and quality standards on hygiene
  • Virtual tours or site inspections for venues
  • Thermal scanning temperature checks and other testing
  • Contactless registration and staggered registration to prevent overcrowding
  • Flexible room and seating configurations to support social distancing when required
  • Crowd monitoring and control at high-density areas within venues
  • Electrostatic sprayers to disinfect surfaces in function rooms and public spaces
  • Automated self-cleaning machines for escalators
  • Sanitising furniture and equipment after each use
  • Enhanced air filtration systems for ventilation in venues
  • Policies for isolation and contact tracing following positive Covid-19 tests
  • Social distancing and protective equipment
  • Preference for ala carte and boxed lunches instead of buffets
  • Adverse impact on sponsorships but some mitigation as the acceleration of digital solutions create new sponsorship opportunities
  • Competing issues in contract language as organisers seek flexible cancellation terms whilst venues seek stricter terms to protect their own exposure
  • Increased focus on contingency planning and crisis management plans

Like other economic sectors, the MICE sector is also adjusting to a new evolving playbook. Government agencies, as well as industry associations and venues, have been busy announcing guidelines for hosting MICE events in a Covid-19 World. Two examples of such guidelines include Good Practice Guide: Addressing COVID-19 Requirements for Re-Opening Business Events and Global Protocols for the New Normal Convention Centre.

MICE – Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions also know as Business Events