As the business events industry looks towards 2023, it faces a range of challenges and opportunities. From rising costs and inflation to the reopening of China, the hybrid nature of work, travel policies, sustainability, and digital adoption, there is much to navigate in the year ahead. But with the right strategies and a focus on innovation, the industry can not only survive but thrive in the post-pandemic era. In this article, we’ll delve into these key issues and explore how the industry can adapt and capitalize on the opportunities ahead.
Rising costs & inflation
The era of free money is over. Interest rates are on the rise. Inflation is skyrocketing almost everywhere in the world – 40-year high in the US, 11-year high in Singapore. Costs are shooting up – energy & petrol, shipping, wages, airfares, groceries. And governments worldwide are ending support given to businesses to cope with Covid-19.
All of these will make it a challenging year ahead!
Reopening of China
It has been a long wait, but it’s finally here. China has reopened. Southeast Asia, Australia, the Middle East & parts of Europe will rejoice and benefit from tourism. In 2019, China represented 155 million international travelers. We should be expecting “revenge travel” from China that some forecast could even exceed pre-covid levels!
Now, even though the reopening of China will be a boon for tourism & business events in general, it will pose issues in the short run. Expect rising costs of airfares, hotels, venues.
Work has changed
The format of work has permanently changed. Many are rejoicing with the possibility of being able to work from home 3 (or more) times per week. Many event companies have chosen not to renew their office leases and now operate from shared office spaces or are fully remote.
The hybrid nature of work poses lots of opportunities – like no geographical restriction when recruiting. If you are an association in Melbourne, should you restrict your search for event managers / marketers only in Australia? Why not recruit in Singapore, UK? That’s already happening.
But how do you keep your team engaged in a hybrid/remote environment? How do you ensure effective collaboration? How do you ensure data security / information leak? How do you retain your talent? These are all the challenges ahead with the new face of work.
With the specter of inflation looming large, many large companies are cutting costs, retrenching. Microsoft is laying off 10,000 workers. Travel budget is not being spared. Many organizations have set targets to decrease their travel budget by as much as 25%. Oxford University, for example, now has a goal to eliminate 20% of flights by 2024/25.
Given that we hear that attendance at business events is expected to reach pre-covid levels this year, it will be challenging to attract international attendees if costs do not stabilize.
Sustainability has long been on the agenda for business events, venues & destinations. But, I think, we are finally moving away from just talk and getting down to actions backed by needed investment. The Paris Agreement has definitely sparked this. And so are the ESG goals being publicly committed to by large public organizations such as Informa.
And we are already seeing tangible efforts to rally the whole industry. The Joint Meetings Industry Council is championing the Net Zero Carbon Events initiative.
This is actually an initiative I am closely involved in, and we should expect data & insights to be published and shared throughout this year, where the industry as a whole can learn and adapt from.
Climate change, at the end of the day, is not just one country’s problem. It’s a global issue, where we all need to come together to tackle.
Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of technologies at an unprecedented rate across almost all industries. In many cases, there were already some trends and Covid simply accelerated it all. We are now in a situation where arrival cards in many countries have gone digital. No more paper. You can now check-in to your hotel at Hilton (for example) right from your phone, and use your digital key to go straight to your room! You control the TV, lighting, and room temperature right from your phone. When attending tradeshows, registration on paper is not even an option now. The printed event booklet is almost gone. It is all on the mobile.
Marketers have been so used to getting precise analytics on digital touchpoints of attendees at virtual events that we are now seeing the same being applied to in-person / hybrid events.
More than ever the trend for digital transformation is hitting MICE businesses hard. It is no longer an option.
Rise of AI
I left this for the last, but this is perhaps the most exciting (and scariest) thing to happen this year. Artificial Intelligence is finally living up to its long held promises. The key here is that the technology is now available to the masses. The release of ChatGPT from OpenAI a mere few months ago (Nov 2022) is taking the world by storm.
If you are not familiar with ChatGPT, just think of it as this super smart assistant that has read all the books in the world, read the whole of Wikipedia, crawled through pretty much the whole of the Internet’s web pages, and understands it all! You can ask it any question, and it’ll know how to answer. Not like Google, giving you a bunch of links for you to sieve through, but more like a friend who replies to you in human language.
ChatGPT is today already being used to write computer codes, blog posts, ad copies, email texts, poems, songs and more…
If you want to understand a legal contract, simply feed it to ChatGPT, and it will explain it to you in plain english – just like how a lawyer will do. It can even then show you how you can make the contract work better for a certain party involved in the agreement.
What does this all mean for lots of professions?
We are at the dawn of a new era. Remember the early days of the Internet (dotcom boom) when there was a big hype that we will be able to do almost everything online – buy pet food, buy books, learn & work online… Then it all crashed (dotcom bust). It was all considered fluff. But look where we are now. It all became reality!
I believe we are at a similar juncture now. You will be hearing lots of hype about the amazing possibilities (& dangers) of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).
We shall go through the hype cycle.
But it will then all happen…
Welcome to 2023!