Analysis Asia Pacific

SMF 2019 drives community values

Building on the success of 2018, this year’s event continues to foster regional partnerships and international collaboration.

Conversations at this year’s Singapore MICE Forum (SMF) were dominated by themes of community and collaboration, making it clear that the future of business events will be driven by personal engagement and relationships.

SACEOS president, Aloysius Arlando opening the forum at SMF 2019.

SACEOS president, Aloysius Arlando, opened the forum at Resorts World Sentosa on 25 July, saying: “A successful business event is a platform created for knowledge exchange where conversations can continue beyond the event to collaborate and find solutions for the industry challenges that we face in today’s world.”

Leading by example, SMF 2019 saw a line-up of international speakers who shared insights on designing customer-centric experiences, digital innovation, and empowering communities.

Business events are opportunities to engage and build relationships, and Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of design studio Eight Inc. (and mastermind behind the Apple Store) explained how to create customer-centric experiences that lead to successful business outcomes.

“The key to successful experience is focusing on understanding people beyond the demographics and psychographics,” he said. “Instead, focus on the things that drive human behaviour.”

Highlights from SMF 2019

“The key to successful experience is focusing on understanding people beyond the demographics and psychographics,” he said. “Instead, focus on the things that drive human behaviour.”

Kobe believes that positive emotional experiences bring about incredible advocacy. “The idea that you can get 12 times the advocacy when you create these types of experiences is an incredible competitive advantage in any business,” he said, quoting Temkin Group’s ROI of Customer Experience 2018 research. 

The research also shows that people are five times more likely to forgive a mistake when you make one. 

Kobe shared that by creating compelling experiences, customers will develop what he calls “irrational loyalty” where they care deeply about your company and your relationship with them. 

In a session titled: ‘Confessions of a Trade Show Organiser’, IMEX Group chairman and industry veteran, Ray Bloom, narrated his struggles in establishing EIBTM in the 1980s. 

He credited his relationships with SITE, MPI and ICCA, among others, as a big part of the event’s success. 

IMEX Group chairman, Ray Bloom recounting his struggles building up his trade show.

After five years of losses with the trade show, he turned a small profit “thanks to the support of all of these individuals and associations in the industry from the very beginning and the community they represented,” he said.

He eventually sold EIBTM to Reed Exhibitions in 1997 and went on to launch the hugely successful IMEX brand in Frankfurt in 2003 and Las Vegas in 2011, both of which attract international buyers and sellers.

“My team and I have managed to enjoy these relationships throughout the years both on an individual basis with trade associations, and also with communities. Those relationships started back at that time, and they’re even stronger today than they were then,” he added.

During a panel session that offered global perspectives on the business events industry, leaders from SITE, AIPC, PCMA and other associations discussed how to stay relevant in a fast-changing market. Key ideas delivered include the events industry’s role in advancing government and economic development priorities, utilising emotional intelligence to design events with the user in mind, and engineering unexpected moments to create lasting memories that drive meaningful impact.

Global association leaders discuss how to stay relevant in an ever-changing market, and how to create meaningful impact.

Still, much of the conversation centred on collaboration and community building, with Kai Hattendorf, managing director of UFI, declaring: “The key to the future is collaboration.”

Meanwhile, IAPCO president, Mathias Posch, cautioned that collaboration needs to be balanced with purpose. “Collaboration is great but it can also be dangerous, because we’re collaborating with everybody in the tourism industry. And so the message gets distorted because we all have a different purpose.”

He explained: “If I organise scientific conferences, my purpose is not putting people into hotels. My purpose is getting people together to share knowledge about science, about medicine, whatever it might be. If I keep hammering on touristic issues, I just distort my own message and I actually lose relevance.”

SMF 2019 also saw continued discussions on the Asia Pacific Community Building Manifesto initiated last year as a call to transform the meetings industry.

Oscar Cerezales, COO Asia Pacific, MCI Group, led industry leaders in a Day-0 exercise to identify actionable outcomes for business model innovation (one of the seven key pillars identified in the manifesto) and outlined how associations, destinations and academia must reinvent themselves to remain competitive.

“Destinations need to rethink the way they create value, their ROI, legacies, and economic impact,” Cerezales advised. 

One way to improve destination management is to create a radical alliance — a ‘superhero’ team of selective people with a real investment — to attract the right kind of MICE business. 

For associations, Hattendorf highlighted a need to refocus on purpose to better serve communities. 

“If we manage to do that, these communities will develop loyalty that goes beyond the rational dimension,” he said. “It can be almost religious.”

And when it comes to academia, Cerezales believes “there is a gap between what is being taught and what we need as an industry”. He proposed the end of “straight-line education” and the beginning of an on-demand, Netflix-style approach to bridge the divide.

Heads of five national convention and exhibition associations in ASEAN signed a joint pledge of support and cooperation.

In the spirit of collaboration, SMF also saw industry trade associations from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand sign the Asia Community Building Pledge to foster stronger regional cooperation.