Exhibitions still matter in a virtual world

Complementary role: Lim says despite the advent of virtual exhibitions, digital elements still remain a supporting role and as a supplement for actual exhibition activities.

KUALA LUMPUR: Business events in the country, such as exhibitions, will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the society.

Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS) president Datuk Vincent Lim said the exhibition industry has progressed over the years, ever since the first exhibition was held here in the mid-70s in Changkat Pavilion. The temporary structure with zinc roofing used to stand next to Stadium Negara.

“Before the Putra World Trade Centre was built, besides Changkat Pavilion the rest of the exhibitions were held in hotel ballrooms, stadiums and even carparks,” he shared.

MACEOS, which positions itself as the voice of the industry, has about 150 members from various industries relating to business events. They include professional exhibition and conference organisers, venue providers, destination management and event management companies, as well as AV and stand contractors.

Lim added that Malaysia achieved about US$130,000 in estimated revenue in 2017 and has a total gross indoor size of nearly 198,000 sq m in terms of venue capacity – making it the third largest exhibition market after Thailand and Singapore in South-East Asia.

Apart from the growth in venue capacity, exhibitions today have changed to focus on not just one but multiple agendas, including elements such as trade and education.

Similar to other industries, technology advancement has had an impact on business events, but its adoption has been purpose-driven and it primarily played a complementary role, he opined.

“As technology evolves, the exhibition industry continues to adapt as well. There is a trend towards tech adoption but it depends on the needs of the exhibition. There’s always a compelling business need and a goal to achieve, instead of just following trends,” he said.

For instance, he pointed to the adoption of big data and analytics in increasing efficiency by enabling trade visitors or buyers to narrow down the exhibitors they want to see before the event, making it increasingly targeted and focused.

Another example in overseas trade shows is adopting artificial intelligence in facial recognition to act as a registration method and for entry.

Virtual exhibitions, Lim said, took root a few years ago with many experts worried that such a trend would take over but the years have shown that it would remain in a supporting role and as a supplement for pre- or post-exhibition activities.

“We still need the human element when it comes to doing business, even as the world becomes more digital,” he said.

MACEOS event management acting vice-president Lee Mark added that while data analytics could be used for various purposes, including intelligent business matching and re-targeting, it could not replace physical exhibitions.

The advent of e-commerce and other technologies do not impact the value that exhibitions provide. The benefits offered by exhibitions include networking, knowledge sharing and market research, where businesses can keep abreast with the latest trends and developments in their industries.

“One of the main things in exhibitions is credibility. When there’s an exhibition component for business events, there are serious players in the game and it’s really about volume. The physical presence itself helps establish credibility. Also, while online, you can access a lot of information, but how credible is it?” he said.

Lee referenced the fashion industry as a case in point, where a business has to exhibit for more than three years in specific events before buyers would entertain buying its products.

“It’s not that the design isn’t good but because when they buy from you, they want to be assured that you can do the volume. Secondly, industry buyers will spend money to promote your product in their stores, so how sure are they that you’re going to be in business tomorrow?

“In that sense, the continuous presence (at physical exhibitions) will show that you’re a serious player and your involvement in these exhibitions provides justification and confidence that you’re in it for the long term,” he explained.

Apart from credibility, exhibitions also bring about memorable experiences for its visitors, he said.

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