KUALA LUMPUR: Informa plc believes virtual exhibitions will be the way forward, done digitally as a point of connection.
The company, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, said events would be a hybrid of both the physical and virtual world once the Covid-19 situation stabilises.
Informa Markets group managing director of Asean, M. Gandhi said: “The structure and training of our people and organisation is based on face-to-face meetings or events. Traditionally, it used to be a face-to-face meeting; our vendors and customers are only used to a face-to-face event.
“We, including our vendors and customers, need to transform to the digital era now. The entire value chain will need to transform to deliver that value, ” Gandhi, who is also senior-vice president for Asia told StarBiz.“One thing we are doing aggressively now is to retrain our team and experimenting online. Among the things I tell my team is to take risks and don’t worry too much about making mistakes, ” he added.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic presented a unique situation and customers would be more forgiving and accepting of mistakes as the situation is unprecedented.
“They themselves are also grappling with the situation. They will forgive so it’s okay to go through this steep learning curve, ” Gandhi said, adding that online training programmes are available for its stakeholders.
“It will be based on video, questionnaire and quiz. Our staff will be ready for the standard operating procedure (SOP), including our vendors and customers. If they don’t know how to use the digital platform, we will train and coach them how to use it, ” he said.
However, while he expects digital exhibitions to become a norm, moving forward, it also could not fully replace a face-to-face meeting.
“If a customer were to buy a piece of furniture, he would need to test it. It is impossible to do that digitally. While digital technology may bridge that – through high-resolution photos – there is still a need to see the items physically, ” he said.
The company has not been able to hold any exhibitions since February, even prior to Malaysia’s movement control order, which kicked off on March 18.
“It’s not only us but the whole exhibition, convention and event industry. In Malaysia, it’s zero business so far. It’s extremely important for us to recover by August or September, that we bring back at least some domestic business, ” he said.
Gandhi anticipates that should the government allow exhibitions eventually, the industry would first cater to 100% domestic customers.
“We have been having meetings with the government through the Business Events Council of Malaysia with the other (industry) players. Over the last two months, we have proposed some SOP to restart the sector, ” he said.
Gandhi said the council wanted to impose an age limit, among others.
“It is now in the final process with the National Security Council. We hope to be able to start physical exhibitions within the next two months, subject to the government’s approval, ” he said.
In the longer term, however, it would be important for the government to move forward with plans to reopen the border selectively to enable business and trade flows to resume.
“To have exhibitions for the domestic market only is a big limitation factor for us. We are different from China or India; they have a big enough market, ” he said, adding that having a travel bubble concept would make a huge difference to the business.
“Perhaps we can just open up to key countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Australia, ” he said.
The idea behind a travel bubble concept is that if two countries were to have successfully reduced the number of Covid-19 cases, citizens who live inside one bubble can enter another bubble country without having to be quarantined.
“According to our estimates, the direct spending from business travellers from these nine countries last year was RM5.3bil. These are estimates from the Tourism Strategic Department. Six months have already gone. If nothing is done, this money is burnt and it will never come back to us.
“We recommend the government to open up first to business travellers and those attending meetings and conferences, ” he said.
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