Current Affairs

The New Default

19th April 2021

Will the hybrid model become the new go-to in the business events industry post-pandemic? Successful events in Seoul are proving the potential of digitalization.

Words Lane Nieset

When the pandemic started, many destinations scrambled to integrate technology so that during travel’s temporary halt, delegates could still meet virtually. “Hybrid” became a buzz word as on-site and digital merged to offer a two-fold experience, and now the meetings industry is experiencing its own type of Industrial Revolution. The acceleration toward technical innovation is well underway, and destinations like Seoul, who have spent the last year preparing for the digitalization of events, are paving the way in this new market.

A step forward

“Initially, most event organizers postponed or cancelled their scheduled events, believing they could bounce back quickly. However, with the pandemic lasting longer than expected, Seoul began to prepare for the ‘new normal’ by developing support policies to fund online digitalization of MICE events, and set strict guidelines for preventing infectious diseases and responding to crises,” explains Steven Kim, Director of Convention Sales Team, at Coex, the largest exhibition and convention promoter in Korea.

Seoul is considering MICE to be a key factor in boosting the industry post-pandemic, and looking to alliances as a way to provide safety measures at future onsite events. The first Asian bureau to join the Hybrid City Alliance, which offers organizers of international events a solution when planning multiple city hub events, Seoul is building connections across the globe and sharing knowledge garnered from the alliance’s collective expertise to offer online and hybrid meeting options, as well as continue advancing the digital solutions it’s currently putting in place. 

As Yun, Yu-sik, a professor at Kyung Hee University (Department of Convention and Exhibition Management), stated in a recent newsletter, The MICE industry needs to bring economic benefits to the local communities by attracting a large number of visitors. If the hybrid model gains ground and the number of inbound business travelers decreases, cities with large convention centers will see their position weaken. In the future, organizers, such as organizations and associations, need to gather ideas on how to evaluate the performance of a MICE event and how to spread those new metrics.

As part of its futureproofing plan, Seoul Convention Bureau (SCB) launched the 3D virtual platform, “Virtual Seoul,” last fall as a way to position the city as a leader in online and hybrid events. Through “Virtual Seoul,” associations can host online or hybrid meetings and take advantage of the platform’s conference hall, workshop rooms, virtual theatre with 360-degree VR videos, and networking lounge. Through Virtual Seoul, the city recently hosted the 8th Union of International Associations Round Table Asia-Pacific, 

In the same fashion, the 19th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) was hosted by Coex in a hybrid format. The opening ceremony and some plenary presentations were held live, while the six-day digital event featured 100 interactive sessions and 500 speakers and brought together thousands of representatives from civil society, governments, multilateral agencies and private sector, along with young activists, musicians, filmmakers and investigative journalists.

As Coex hosts more than 200 exhibitions and 2,500 international meetings and events annually, many of the in-house exhibitions, such as Automation World and Sourcing Fair, are planning on moving forward for the time being as hybrid events. According to Kim, the successful virtual and hybrid events at the city level have persuaded many local organizations to take their conferences and trade shows virtually, or host at a smaller scale at Coex. 

“Although physical meetings and offline events are slowly coming back on the agenda, we strongly believe that event organizers will continue with hybrid events. COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation, and the trend to virtual events is not reversible because of the value of big data analytics,” Kim explains. “There are many advantages of online events, and it’s only a matter of time before event organizers and exhibitors fully comprehend how to leverage the platform’s tools to maximize ROI. Therefore, a virtual event is more than just an alternative solution to a face-to-face offline event, and should be valued as an extended form of strategic digital marketing to a global audience.”

In this regard, as a complement to virtual events, SCB has launched a digital teambuilding programme that’s the first of its kind called Virtual Seoul Playground. It offers stimulating teambuilding in a metaverse Seoul. Through the use of avatars, virtual tour experiences, and online games, delegates can learn more about Korean culture while engaging with teammates.

Startup solutions 

Meanwhile, Coex has been transforming its facilities and services to support hybrid and virtual events. Last November, Coex established a partnership with NexTech AR Solutions, a leading provider of virtual and augmented reality (AR) experience technologies and services in Canada. And through COEX LIVE, Coex is working with one of the best streaming companies in Korea to offer in-house webcasting and event streaming services for clients. “With the pandemic accelerating technology development and Korea actively deploying 5G, what we can expect in Korea is embracing technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence,” says Kim, adding that the partnership with NexTech AR Solutions is a move in that direction as a way to offer organizations a high-end, interactive 3D product experience and VR videos.

Not only is technology being used for events, it’s also the crux of startups like venue finding platform Roovook, which joined the Seoul MICE Alliance (SMA) last year. Divided in 20 categories, including hotels, convention centers and unique venues, SMA offers its members support for their participation in overseas exhibitions, road shows, conferences and meetings. Through members like Roovook, Seoul is stepping on the global event stage as a pioneer of virtual and hybrid event solutions. Roovook for example, opens up venues virtually through the use of VR, in an effort to serve as something like an Expedia for venues. “Finding the right venue during a pandemic become more difficult due to social distancing and restrictions,” says Roovook CEO/Founder Kyle Kim. “We’re continuing to accelerate the MICE industry through IT solutions so that when the pandemic is over, Seoul will emerge as an easy city to host events by booking venues online, with just a few clicks.”

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