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How the meetings industry can advance a hybrid world

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Are hybrid events here to stay? That’s the question weighing over the meetings industry as the world begins to emerge from the pandemic lockdown. The 2020 ICCA Statistics Report found that nearly one-third of association meetings pivoted to either a hybrid or virtual format last year. The transformation delivered new challenges, but many associations also found they were able to reach and engage audiences in surprising ways. 

“As an industry we have been working on hybrid models for the past 16 months, but as virtual and hybrid events become an optional feature rather than a necessity we need to examine how we really network and bring our community together,” said ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath. “We are all eager to see each other face-to-face again. However, we need to fully realise how we can best meet the needs and wishes of our association community.” 

During the ICCA Think Tank: Advancing a Hybrid World, presented by the Taipei City Government, a panel of experts discussed the impact of new technologies on the business events world and what digital transformation means for the future of the global meetings industry. 

The new hybrid frontier

In a recent survey of the ICCA Association Community, 96% of respondents said technology has affected the way they conduct meetings and 49% are adding hybrid elements to their events. However, that doesn’t mean associations are ready to go all in on digital.

“Technology is just a means for associations to fulfill their mandate which is really what their purpose is,” said Octavio Peralta, President of the Asia Pacific Federation of Association Organization (APFAO)

ICCA Meeting Support sector chair, Jaap Bakker, described the struggle for many associations to identify the technology that fits their needs. “People are not adapting as rapidly and they’re asking to meet each other again. For learning (the technology) is okay, but it is still behind when it comes to networking.” 

Furthermore, hybrid events can be more costly for associations as they can require twice as much staff to manage both the on-site and online components. Thomas Gray, Business Development Manager, EventsAIR, believes that integrated event technology will help mitigate the added costs. “The key innovation is going to be a move to a really seamless interactive blend to the online and on-site. That means not thinking of them as different audiences. Hybrid is here to stay and you will be missing out on opportunities without doing hybrid.” 

The Hybrid City Alliance is a new global network that aims to connect partners who can offer meeting professionals knowledge, innovation, and tools to produce hybrid and multi-city events. A representative of the Alliance, Tadeja Pivc-Coudyser, said the ROI of hybrid and hub events depends on what the association wants to achieve. For example, the association might want to expand their audience or leave a legacy in a smaller city that couldn’t have previously hosted their full-scale event. “It comes down to looking into who you are as an association, what your members need and how you can provide that to them.”

Hi-tech destinations

As associations merge hybrid and virtual components with their face-to-face meeting formats, they’ll look for partners who are aligned with this new way forward. While the meetings support sector has rushed to fill this gap, destinations and venues are also expediently redefining their business models. 

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je detailed how the city is adapting and evolving to the new normal and emerging as a leader in the meetings industry. “The transformation of MICE in Taipei City involves the integration of technology that will not only combine the strengths of technology to develop hardware and software but also develop in-depth tourism, cooperate with internet celebrities, and use social media to introduce the highlights of Taipei.”

Long before the pandemic, the city of Taipei has worked to incorporate technology into every layer of its operations. Dr. Chang-Yu Lee explained that as a SMART City, Taipei can more quickly adapt to changes and find solutions through collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors. Furthermore, technology adds ease and convenience for international business events attendees who need to navigate the city and language while visiting the city. 

“Taipei is a wonderful example of how innovative technologies can create new pathways for global business meetings,” said Senthil Gopinath. “The roadmap may look different from each association as they find the route that best suits their goals and audience. What our industry can best do is continue to listen and collaborate to offer creative solutions that truly serve our community.”

Watch the full discussion - ICCA Think Tank: Advancing presented by the Taipei City government 

Listen to Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-Je describe how Taipei is becoming a MICE leader

See the city of Taipei in this stunning time-lapse video 


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