Economic Update

Published 12 Aug 2020

Amid global travel restrictions, social-distancing protocols and prohibitions on mass gatherings, the world’s meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment has been forced to adapt to the pandemic, with some events shifting online and others being deferred.

Before the outbreak of the virus – and the subsequent introduction of travel restrictions and social-distancing guidelines – the MICE segment presented a promising growth avenue for emerging markets seeking to diversify their tourism offering.

For example, earlier this year DCT Abu Dhabi announced a Dh600m ($163.3m) fund to attract business and entertainment events to the emirate. For its part, Saudi Arabia – the host of the 2020 G20 Leaders’ Summit in November, along with more than 10,000 other MICE events per year – has invested approximately $1.6bn in hosting facilities since 2016.

MICE events traditionally provide an opportunity for emerging markets to showcase their facilities, infrastructure and offering not only to visitors, but also to the wider business community and the world at large.

When Papua New Guinea hosted the 2018 APEC Leaders’ Summit, for instance, visitors were invited to share their experiences with specific hashtags on social media as a cost-effective solution to advertise positive experiences of the country with a broader audience.

Global summits during a pandemic

Some headline events have been postponed until after Covid-19 subsides, including the UN climate change summit, COP26, which was intended to serve as the deadline for countries to meet emissions reduction commitments under the Paris agreement.

Initially planned for October, the event was rescheduled to November 2021 to enable countries to focus their resources on the current health crisis.

However, with much of the global workforce shifting to the digital sphere, some government and multilateral bodies have moved key summits online.

Major recent virtual events include the extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit in March, chaired by Saudi Arabia, with the aim of coordinating Covid-19 response strategies. Elsewhere, the 36th ASEAN Summit was hosted by Vietnam via video conference in June, allowing representatives to discus post-pandemic recovery plans in the region.

Upcoming virtual events

Some conferences and exhibitions have been rearranged as virtual events later this year.

In Africa and the Middle East, the end of September will see the first virtual Arab African Mining Conference and Exhibition. Participating nations include Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the event aims to leverage digital resources to enhance attendee experience both before and during the event.

Ahead of the conference, participants can learn about the wider extractive landscape and review a range of potential investment opportunities in the region via the digital mining platform, i-MINE. During the event, attendees can not only listen to content being broadcast live from Africa and the Middle East, but also arrange one-on-one virtual business meetings.

In Nigeria, the fifth annual Kaduna Investment Summit, KADINVEST 5.0, was scheduled to take place in April. After initially being postponed indefinitely, the event will now be held as a webinar in September with a focus on fostering innovation, as well as encouraging investment in industry and infrastructure development.

Other events are being restructured as a blend of online and offline experiences to minimise physical contact. 

The 2020 Mining Investment London conference and exhibition, originally planned for September, will now take place as both an in-person conference and virtual event in December, while its Asia instalment has been tentatively scheduled to go ahead in November in the regular format in Singapore, which has cautiously begun to loosen Covid-19 restrictions.

Thailand, meanwhile, is continuing to host physical events with numerous health and safety protocols in place – evidence of the appetite that remains for business as usual.  

Future of the MICE segment

As with the majority of Covid-19-related adaptations, it remains to be seen whether changes in the MICE segment will remain once the health threat has subsided.

“A swift pivot to online platforms can virtually bridge some of the interactive gaps caused by restrictions on mass congregations, and should therefore help to soften the blow of Covid-19 on the MICE segment,” Ed Gallinero, managing director at PCM Asia, which hosts investment-focused events for industry professionals, told OBG.

Looking further ahead, early signs of appetite to return to traditional events – with the opportunity for in-person networking and an atmosphere that is difficult to replicate online – may reassure industry players of the prospects for recovery as Covid-19-related restrictions are eased.

“The sector – which, in Asia Pacific, is a key driver of not only economic growth, but also regional alliance – will eventually be able to get back on track with a concerted effort from the sector’s stakeholders,” Gallinero added.

Are virtual events here to stay?

Regardless of the appeal of traditional events, a virtual strategy enables exhibitors and speakers to use cost-effective means to reach a wider audience without the need for participants to travel.

This could mean a broader range of events offering a remote attendance option in the future, particularly as the global population becomes more familiar with online communications software, live-streaming technologies and the cost-saving aspects of remote meetings.

This may provide a buffer against Covid-19-related cancellations in the medium term, as some countries may yet need to retighten restrictions during the recovery period. Furthermore, these options can be monetised and thereby also offer an additional revenue stream to help event industry players in their recovery efforts.

To some degree, a blended approach could enable emerging markets to use technology effectively to showcase their facilities, infrastructure and unique offering to a wider audience, and help further raise their profile on the global economic stage.