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IMDEX Asia regains same, yet different footing in a familiar pandemic

IMDEX Asia regains same, yet different footing in a familiar pandemic

SHOW NEWS  | 26 JULY 2022

The past two years were an unusual one for all of us. We lived, worked and socialised in ways never known nor experienced before. It was against this backdrop that we trimmed the scope and scale of IMDEX Asia 2021; hosting only the 7th edition of International Maritime Security Conference (IMSC) that continued to facilitate strategic conversations on maritime issues to promote mutual understanding and collaboration amongst leaders in the naval defence community.

Earlier this year, when Singapore hosted its first large-scale international trade event – Singapore Airshow 2022 – the world watched. Held amidst an evolving pandemic, it was naturally scaled down. International travel was still restricted then, and there were rigorous safe-management measures to adhere to for the health and well-being of exhibitors, visitors, vendors and staff. Yet, the event still stayed true to its mission to bring the aerospace and defence industry together for strategic conversations, renew ties, make new contacts, and to exchange ideas on developments in innovation and sustainability.

Trade shows and exhibitions are a crucial engine of commerce. They are a primary way for manufacturers and buyers to connect, and for industry associates to make connections and share news. Such events are a huge business. The global events industry market was valued at some US$887 billion in 2020 and is projected to cross US$2,194 billion by 2028.

Worth some US$2.5 billion in 2018, the Singapore MICE tourism market contributes significantly to the country’s economy; and the value is expected to more than double to US$5.2 billion by the end of 2027.

After declining by 15 per cent from 2019 to 2020 worldwide, MICE activity is already on the rebound. The Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS) predicted in December last year that MICE would return to its pre-pandemic level by 2023, citing high-profile conferences in late-2021 such as the Singapore Fintech Festival and Singapore International Agri-Food Week. The Singapore government has predicted a 121 per cent rise in exhibitions industry revenue growth in Asia from 2020 to 2021.

But the pandemic has transformed the nature of these events. The past two years saw the rise of remote networking technologies that have led to the emergence of virtual and hybrid events that blend online participation with in-person attendance. This flexibility allowed the MICE industry to resuscitate itself even as cities and countries locked down to battle Covid-19.

Done right, such hybrid events can expand a trade show's reach and impact, even in a future where lockdowns and strict travel controls pose less of a disruptive threat.

Hybrid shows should follow a few best practices. Virtual attendees must have ample networking opportunities, they need to be able to attend presentations via livestreams and participate via digital engagement. But there remains an important need for in-person connections to fully reap the rewards of MICE events.

While online components are a great way to expand access and create more flexible events, in-person attendance cannot be done away with altogether. What we heard repeatedly at the airshow was that exhibitors and trade attendees are tired of virtual events. They want to meet each other in person, see business partners in the eye, and fist bump one another when partnerships are struck and deals are signed.

For trade shows and exhibitions that focus on precision hardware and high-value components, buyers and sellers rely on being able to demonstrate and observe wares in person. One usually wouldn't buy a car without test-driving it, let alone consider a ship or plane without seeing it in action. I believe this will be the attitude when Asia’s leading naval and maritime defence show – IMDEX Asia 2023 – comes to town from 3 – 5 May 2023.

As with any trade show or conference, networking opportunities are crucial. While it is not hard to create virtual social events, the ease and serendipity that come with real-life networking are difficult to replicate. However, organisers will need to balance the health and safety of event attendees with ensuring a fruitful and meaningful experience.

Uncertainty will loom large in the MICE industry today and in the near future. Yet, the sea of change taking place in the industry today will have benefits beyond safety and access as we continue to explore how to unlock the potential of digital technology to enhance the user experience while promoting business and boosting the economy.

Perhaps the trade shows of the future will take place partially in the metaverse, or with human-like robotic presenters demonstrating wares on behalf of companies thousands of miles away. These futuristic possibilities may be closer than we think. After all, flight too was only an idea before Orville Wright piloted the Wright Flyer across the North Carolina dunes in 1903.

The pandemic has shifted the shape of trade shows. And in whatever ways future trade shows may continue to evolve, ensuring relevance for meaningful engagement and greater economic impact to businesses and industries remains our constant as we plan for IMDEX Asia 2023.

Leck Chet Lam
Managing Director, Experia