Digital venues and virtual booths: How hybrid MICE events can be piloted
What could MICE events look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic? What changes are organisers putting in place? CNA's Chew Hui Min finds out.
SINGAPORE: Last year, the Singapore International Energy Week welcomed more than 13,000 delegates from more than 80 countries to its event in Singapore. This year, the number of physical attendees will number, at most, 250.
The event is one of the hybrid conferences that will be piloting a new way of holding Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) events.
While the event organiser did not give specifics on the number of attendees for this year’s conference, to be held from Oct 26 to Oct 30, it said that with live streaming, many more participants are expected to take part virtually, in addition to the 250 people on site at Marina Bay Sands (MBS).
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing announced on Monday (Sep 7) that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) will be accepting applications to hold MICE events for up to 250 people. Event organisers must demonstrate their ability to implement COVID-19 safe management measures in piloting their events, said STB.
How will such “hybrid events” work?
MBS, where at least two pilot events will be held, has set up a hybrid event broadcast studio, which it said will turn the events into “immersive visual experiences”.
“Meeting planners need to build the agility to adapt to changing customer demands and accelerate their plans for digital transformation,” said Mr Ong Wee Min, MBS’ vice-president of conventions and exhibitions.
DIGITAL VENUES FOR HYBRID EVENTS
Founder and CEO of events technology provider GlobalSign.in Veemal Gungadin told CNA that while there has always been a digital component to events, it was more an “afterthought”. It has now become a mainstay amid the pandemic.
To facilitate such events, where most of the participants will be “attending” virtually, the company has built a digital venue at MBS - with the lights and cameras of a broadcast studio - and will be synchronising it with live elements as well as interactive functions, so that those logging in virtually can interact with physical participants in real time.
For example, a panel discussion can now be done with speakers who are both physically present and those who sign in remotely, and they can take questions from participants in the studio and remote attendees, he said.
“It has really been putting into place existing technologies, but really gelling it all together ... it's really building, using all these building blocks,” said Mr Veemal.
“I think we are on the cusp of some really big change, and I think nobody really prepared for that - it's being forced upon us.”
The next digital component that GlobalSign.in will be trialling is virtual booths for exhibitors, which will feature at a new event in November called TravelRevive, organised by ITB Asia.
STB said that these hybrid event models will be important, for continued testing and refining of events, as there are still border restrictions in place for many countries.
“We expect that while there may be overseas visitors who will attend these MICE events in person, many may choose to attend virtually for now,” STB said in response to media queries.
ON-SITE SAFE MANAGEMENT MEASURES
There will still be a physical aspect to the events being piloted, and that will face significant change as well.
For example, to make face-to-face meetings safer, participants at pilot conferences in Singapore may meet, but must be separated by a pane of plexi-glass in “meeting pods”.
Other ways to minimise the risk of infection include automated registration kiosks and plexi-glass shields in physical exhibition booths that serve to reduce droplet transmission.
To limit the density of attendees, especially in enclosed places, organisers are to ensure 1m spacing between participants at all times, and separate them into cohorts of fewer than 20 people. There is to be no intermingling between cohorts.
During meals or other scenarios where individuals are permitted to remove their masks, the number in each group must not exceed five people, STB said. These groups of five are not allowed to mingle.
Organisers must also be prepared for any COVID-19 related emergencies, and be able to respond to situations, such as handling attendees or staff with COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical treatment for them.
The precautions extend to after the event. All attendees are required to use the TraceTogether system and they will be asked to monitor their health for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days after the end of event, and to report to the organisers if they develop symptoms.
If they do, they will be asked to get themselves tested for the coronavirus.
"Should there be a suspected or confirmed case from the commencement of event to 14 days after the event, event organisers would need to immediately inform STB and MOH. Contact tracing will also begin by utilising the TraceTogether data,” said STB.
The tourism board said that it will be enforcing the measures to ensure they are strictly adhered to.
Professor Dale Fisher, senior consultant at the Division of Infectious Diseases at the National University Hospital (NUH), said that the safe management measures devised are consistent with good COVID-19 safe practice, but implementation is key.
“The test is always in the implementation, in that they provide an acceptable balance of safety while retaining the specific conference / meeting experience,” he said.
“There will be a lot to learn in the pilots; these will be helpful test-beds to ascertain what techniques and executional roll-outs work best.”
The MICE industry supported more than 34,000 jobs with an economic value-add of S$3.8 billion, or nearly 1 per cent of Singapore’s GDP, according to a study commissioned by STB last year.