Positive signals from Asia

In China, Messe Frankfurt relaunched its expo business on July 15 thru 17, 2020 with the Intertextile Shenzhen Apparel Fabrics and the Yarn Expo. Foto: Messe Frankfurt.

Asian countries were the first required to enforce lockdowns due to COVID-19. But they are also the first to stage large-sized events with up to 100,000 visitors.

While the entire world early this year apprehensively eyed Asia and in particular China to monitor the development of COVID-19, the event-staging community in summer 2020 attentively and anxiously looked to the land of the rising sun and its neighbours to learn if and above all how (large-sized) events might be staged in times of a global pandemic.

Deutsche Version

Positive Signale aus Asien

Es waren asiatische Länder, die wegen COVID-19 zuerst einen Lockdown einleiten mussten. Nun finden dort aber auch schon wieder Großveranstaltungen mit bis zu 100.000 Besuchern statt.

The first courageous step in this direction was taken in May by the South Korean government, when they transformed the month-long Social Distancing campaign to Distancing in Daily Life in order to accommodate the increasing need for social and cultural activities and to make possible attending events. Korea's largest meeting facility Korea International Exhibition and Convention Center (Kintex) in Goyang reopened its doors for the first time since January. Strictly observing safety regulations, organizer PEO Dong-A Fairs staged the 53rd MBC Construction Expo from May 8 thru 11, 2020.

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In preparing for the event, the center's entire indoor and outdoor facilities were disinfected, safety concepts and contingency plans were developed jointly with local hospitals and health authorities, air-conditioning installations in the event halls were adapted accordingly. PEO Dong-A Fairs was in charge of administration, inspection and maintenance of the expo hall interior and well as the entrance gate, while the Kintex team was responsible for the entire fairground premises and the lobby area. Altogether more than 50 staffers from both companies on three expo days were focused exclusively on safety and hazard prevention at the event.

The event staged in two expo halls ultimately saw 45,000 attendees instead of the anticipated 100,000 in five halls as the year before, but no infections were registered, which is why organizer, convention center and also the exhibitors offered a positive summary. There's potential for improvement, for example in admission inspections and queue management, but on the other hand it has been demonstrated that major events can be successfully staged during a full-fledged COVID-19 pandemic, which has also produced a reference list and a detailed activities catalogue for future events, which the Korean MICE bureau (KMB) of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) supports both financially and with an array of safety and health equipment (masks, hand sanitizer, infrared cameras, etc.).

The Korea International Exhibition and Convention Center (Kintex) in Goyang already in May welcomed more than 45,000 visitors.

Since June, first events have also been staged in South Korea's capital Seoul, among these Korea Landscape and Garden Expo 2020 and the Seoul International Dental Exhibition and Scientific Congress 2020 (Sidex 2020) on June 6 and 7, 2020 with 4,860 delegates. Six weeks later, the 10th Korea Smart Device Trade Show 2020 (Kitas) on three days attracted almost 20,000 visitors to the Coex Convention & Exhibition Center. This Kitas is one of seven international events to be staged this July at the Coex. By the end of the year, there are altogether 25 international events listed in the Coex calendar.


Support Programme for International Conferences in Korea

However, even if analogous events are staged in South Korea, virtual formats have become standard feature in the "New Normal" for events: as host of the annual Round Table Asia-Pacific staged by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the Seoul Convention Bureau (SCB) will for the first time organize a virtual round table meeting on September 17 and 18. What makes it so unique is the diverse virtual event venues representing Seoul: N Seoul Tower, Changdeokgung-Palace, Seoul botanic park, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) and the Floating Island Convention.

Next to lectures, seminars, workshops and panel discussions, the program features a virtual Seoul stand, VR tours of the destination and several minigames. Jihyun Kim with the Seoul Tourism Organization's MICE Planning Team is excited: "It seemed adventurous to host a Round Table virtually at first. However, as more things are fitting into the right place, it started to portray a successful event that will show the value of the city to the attendees."

In China, Messe Frankfurt relaunched its expo business on July 15 thru 17, 2020 with the Intertextile Shenzhen Apparel Fabrics and the Yarn Expo. More than 1,000 exhibitors displayed their products and services to a total of 42,000 visitors. "This Intertextile Shenzhen was the starting shot for global resumption of the event-staging business; it impressively demonstrates the need for physical meetings and professional platforms. This isn't only a promising signal for the textile industry, but for the entire event-staging industry as well," said Detlef Braun, member of the executive board Messe Frankfurt. "Expos and fairs have always been a major economic driver in post-crisis periods," added Messe Frankfurt's CEO Wolfgang Marzin.

Messe Frankfurt relaunched its expo business with the Intertextile Shenzhen.

"We're delighted to contribute to bringing business communities back in touch with each other, and that's something they're grateful for in the current situation." Compliance with hygiene and safety standards in Shenzhen encompassed distancing rules, mandatory mask-wearing as well as online registration of all visitors prior to the event.

Approximately one week later, Kölnmesse also restarted its activities in China with the interzum guangzhou running from July 27 thru 30, 2020. "International participation was as good as can be expected under the circumstances, and digital business-matchmaking enabled exhibitors to reach out to visitors who were unable to travel here," said Gerald Böse, CEO Kölnmesse. "This strengthens our resolve to stage expos at our Cologne fairgrounds as soon as ever possible. The success of interzum guangzhou gives us the courage to join forces with our associates and partners to do everything possible to make that happen."

The interzum guangzhou was the first major expo for the international furniture-production supplier industry in the second half of the year with more than 800 exhibitors from 16 countries as well as around 100,000 visitors, even if the number of exhibitors was smaller than in the preceding years. "The most important thing in the current situation is to make sure our partners feel well and safe at our events. We're convinced as event pros of being capable of providing the required environment to assure precisely that," said Keith Tsui, Managing Director of the Chinese Kölnmesse subsidiary.

The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in Malaysia has launched a number of initiatives to reflate business activities and to invigorate the campaign 'We are here for you'. These activities include a variety of digital solutions headlined 'Stay Connected'. "We have recognized that the environment for business events has been totally transformed by Covid-19 and this provided the motivation and inspiration to put our clients' needs at the forefront of our initiatives and to demonstrate our support, passion and commitment to our industry and its sustainability”, said General Manager Alan Pryor.

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"Our digital solutions have been designed to enable business continuity in running meetings and events, and help organizers increase engagement and connect with audiences. We can seamlessly deliver digital solutions for events of any size and scale, securely and reliably. This will ensure clients can execute hybrid and virtual events with peace of mind, providing their participants with rewarding and memorable experiences." In reference to potentially staging events under proper consideration of strict and comprehensive health and hygiene regulations, Pryor explained: "The exact capacity each of our rooms can host will vary depending on the event type, layout and requirements. With over 33,000 sqm of meeting and event space, the Centre can comfortably apply more than adequate social distancing for events."

When the doors reopened for business on July 1, the facility was immediately booked for five corporate functions with up to 500 delegates. The event calendar features 20 confirmed corporate, association and expo events for the remainder of this year; Pryor pointed out that plenty inquiries are incoming. For 2021, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is cautiously optimistic, with 40 percent of its business objectives already secured.

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The Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) also nurtured optimism when it on September 2 at the 'Thailand MICE United' event for the domestic meeting market officially presented two new 'MICE Cities': Nakhon Ratchasima and Songkhla, which now strengthen the alliance consisting of Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Khon Kaen. TCEB-President Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, seeks to drive the economic output of both destinations: “The success of the five MICE Cities is proven by the fact that they can attract more business events, creating trade, jobs and revenue and contributing to the development of the infrastructure, workforce and facilities in each destination. Such positive results have become the inspiration for other potential provinces across the country to attain the same status, which TCEB considers a good and encouraging sign for MICE industry and the regional and national economy." Even if large-scale bookings for events in both cities have not yet been registered, national event-staging initiatives are emitting strong signals also for Europe in general and Germany in particular.

Christian Funk