Events going hybrid or virtual


WITH the Covid-19 pandemic still on-going, having hybrid or virtual arrangements for major events will be the new way of life until a vaccine is available.

Penang Convention and Exhibition Bureau (PCEB) chief executive officer Ashwin Gunasekeran believes hybrid or virtual events would take place until the second or third quarter next year before physical events could be held again.

“We are moving into hybrid mode which is a combination of virtual and physical events.

“Domestic participants are allowed to attend the events and conferences as long as they adhere strictly to the standard operating procedures (SOP).

“At the same time, there will also be a virtual version to reach out to its foreign counterparts.

“In general, most conferences that are scheduled for Penang will either be held in a hybrid or virtual manner, ” he said.

A hybrid event is where one has a small capacity with social distancing measures in place, and a virtual session at the same time where one can stream out that event to people online.

Last month, the World Hospitality, Lifestyle and Entertainment Exhibition and Conference (WHOLE 2020) was held at the Setia SPICE Convention Centre in Penang.

The first hybrid trade show in the country was deemed a success as it combined a live physical event attended by local industry players with a virtual version for foreign counterparts.

Ashwin said out of the 50 business events planned to take place in Penang this year, five were cancelled and 45 were postponed.

He said the recent Penang International Travel Exchange (PITE), which used to be a physical event, was also held virtually this year.

“In previous years, we would fly in 150 buyers from all over the world.

“Now that we are conducting it virtually, we can have unlimited buyers and we can invite as many potential buyers as possible.

“So far, we have 136 buyers from southeast Asia, east Asia, south Asia, the United States, Australia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

“Besides, we have trade visitors that do not have to make appointments but they can talk to our sellers whenever there are free slots available, ” he said during an interview at his office on Monday.

PITE is an annual homegrown travel exchange to position Penang as the leading business events and leisure destination in the Asia Pacific.

Previously, buyers and the invited media were exposed to tourism products in Penang through business-to-business sessions and outdoor familiarisation trips with Penang’s tourism players.

Ashwin said on July 18, PCEB launched the Next Normal Guidelines for Business Events Penang, making Penang the first state in Malaysia with a set of guidelines for organising business events.

“We spearheaded the initiative and came up with a set of guidelines for our participants from the point of entry to exit.

“The guidelines are endorsed by the state Health Department and are updated from time to time in accordance to the SOPs outlined by the National Security Council (MKN), ” he said.

Ashwin said the guidelines were divided into six sectors, namely venues and convention centres, hotels, unique venues, destination management company (DMC) and transportation, professional conference organisers (PCO) and exhibition organisers, and event and exhibition suppliers.

“Everyone came together and agreed on the guidelines, hence there will be no confusion.

“The business event industry has always been resilient and come back stronger with new innovations, ideas and knowledge, ” he said.

Penang tourism and creative economy committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin said many events had been held virtually since the movement control order (MCO) was enforced on March 18.

“Events and programmes have to be moved digitally when possible.

“It is something we have to adopt and get used to due to the pandemic, ” he said recently.

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