ES – What is AFECA’s role in the Asian exhibition industry? What has AFECA achieved for the global exhibition industry since its inception?
Walter – The Asian Federation of Exhibition and Convention Associations (AFECA) is Asia’s leading MICE association and the gateway to global MICE associations in the world. AFECA consists of over 135 members, covering 18 nations/regions including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Macau, the Philippines, Vietnam and more. AFECA currently has 36 national leading association members, including Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organizers & Suppliers (SACEOS), Indian Exhibition Industry Association (IEIA), Indonesian Congress and Convention Association (INCCA), Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers (MACEOS), Thailand Exhibition Association (TEA), and others, canvassing approx. 11,000 MICE-related organizations and companies.I have been elected as the President of AFECA since 2015 until now. Overthe years, we have actively promoted the development and betterment of the Asian convention and exhibition industry, and served as a voice at international conventions and conferences on behalf of Asia’s MICE Industry. It is our goal to help all Asian MICE companies communicate and maintain ongoing working relations. The Annual General Meeting and board meeting are held each year to enable this goal. This year’s board meeting will be held in May in Hyderabad, India and will aspire to promote mutual communication and understanding between Asian and Indian MICE companies.
ES – What is your view on exhibitions in today’s era? How can they become even more relevant?
Walter – Exhibitions have always been the best platform for manufacturers to expand their businesses. From my perspective, the importance and role of the exhibition industry may be described as follows:
(1) Exhibitions match manufacturers and buyers most efficiently. Despite the challenges created by new technologies such as the Internet, exhibitions bring buyers and exhibitors from home and abroad for face-to-face exchanges, allow buyers to assess products, enjoy onsite experiences, and visit exhibitors’ local factories. It is undoubtedly the most efficient way of doing business.
(2) Exhibitions promote the latest trends Many exhibitors choose to release their latest products and technologies at the world’s most influential exhibitions. For example, Computex Taipei and Taipei Cycle,both organized by TAITRA, are the industries’ most important platforms for new technologies, product specifications, and trends. Exhibitions provide the best stage to attract attention from related industries around the world, and therefore participation in exhibitions is an optimal way to understanding current trends. Internationally-renowned exhibitions are hence very important platforms for trend setting.
(3) Exhibitions promote exchange Exhibitions gather large numbers of companies from the same or related industries and serve as ‘temporary industrial clusters’. Companies are able to quickly form an exchange and generate cooperation during the exhibition. In addition to knowing each other’s competitiveness and market position strategies, companies can quickly acknowledge each other’s advantages and weakness opportunities.
As for the role of exhibitions in the future, I think with the constant transformation, innovation and expansion of scale and model of the exhibition industry, exhibitions will be organized in different ways and at different locations, with a growing number of exhibition venues. It will bring tremendous benefits and changes to the lifestyles, spending, employment and entertainment for the residents of the host city.The exhibition industry is predicted to become one of the main drivers for a country’s economic development. According to UFI estimates, one exhibition brings a city an indirect economic benefit of about seven times the revenue the exhibition organizer can earn from the exhibition itself. In the future, the ongoing expansion of the Asian exhibition market, the increase in the number of exhibitions and the increasingly large number of venues, the direct and indirect benefits brought about by exhibition activities will be expected to grow as well. The exhibition industry is increasingly contributing to the economy and the industry is bound to play a more important role in the new era too.
ES – What do you feel this industry has in store for young professionals?
Walter – The Exhibition industry covers a wide range of businesses and requires a wide range of knowledge and abilities. Young professionals should have the following skills in joining the MICE sphere:
(1) Communication and coordination: One cannot possibly handle MICE activities on one’s own, it requires a team to deal with all the details. Hence communication and coordination can be cultivated.
(2) Integration capabilities: dealing with an exhibition often requires a number of issues to be handled at the same time. How to deal with important issues in a limited period of time is also a challenge that the executor often faces. Exhibition experience strengthens this ability.
(3) The ability to explore trends and apply them practically: The exhibition event is a showcase for almost every industry. Using the latest technology such as VR, AR, MR, etc. to display the customer’s products are necessary. Therefore, tracking and discovering trends and marketing methods is also one of the skills required for organizers.
(4)Crisis management capabilities: Unexpected situations should be anticipated while handling MICE events. Therefore, proper handling of emergencies skills is also a requirement for MICE organizers.
(5) Foreign language ability: The Exhibition industry has become more and more internationalized in recent decades. A certain level of another language, especially English, is important.
ES – What are the major challenges surrounding the Asian exhibition industry today? The challenges faced by Asian exhibitions in recent years are as follows:
Walter – (1) Fierce competition among countries: In the coming years, for example, between 2016 and 2022, nearly 14 exhibition venues in the Asia-Pacific region are being expanded or constructed in order to hold or attract more MICE events in their countries/ regions. In addition, the same types of exhibitions are being held in different countries, for example, the CES exhibition in the United States opened CES Asia in Shanghai, to expand the Asian market.
(2)The rise of online exhibitions: Due to the development of network technologies in recent years, online exhibitions have been developed. Since virtual exhibitions have many advantages for exhibitors, such as no time and place restrictions, and lower costs, exhibitors may display their products for longer for cross-border customers.
(3)Application of New Technologies: In recent years, the use of smart devices has prompted the exhibition industry to keep up with trends, for instance using QR code to enter the exhibition field to reduce human resources incontrolling access, close-range wireless transmission (NFC) to collect buyer information, or using I beacons to position the visitors, navigate the exhibitors, and broadcast the news to all participants in the exhibition hall. This enhances the effectiveness of the exhibition and enables efficient and accurate statistical data analysis for the organizers. However, the use of new technologies will inevitably increase the cost of implementing activities. Whether small and medium-sized operators will be burdened and whether the information collected through new technologies will be properly and legally used are all problems that can surface with the use of new technologies.
(4|) Insufficient professionals in the industry: In recent years, the MICE industry has developed rapidly due to its promotion by governments in various countries. However, the professionalism does not happen instantaneously, and the demand for professional talent is increasing daily. It has almost arrived at the point of ‘grabbing talent’. At present, the Certified in Exhibition Management™ (CEM) is globally recognized and demonstrates the highest professional standard in the exhibition and event management arena. Today there are more than 2,600 active CEMs around the world, including Singapore, Thailand, India, Korea, and Taiwan etc., there are organizations that provide training to get this certification. On the other hand, associations in Singapore, Thailand, Macau, and Taiwan also provide their own training programs to cultivate new personnel.
ES – What are the upcoming trends and business opportunities of the Asian exhibition industry for the year 2018?
Walter – Regarding upcoming trends and business opportunities for the Asian exhibition industry in 2018, I consider the following points as outstanding:
(1) The expanding of Asia’s exhibition industry: According to the Trade Fair Industry in Asia Report released by the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) in 2017, the exhibition market in Asia has expanded in recent years. The total number of exhibitions, the floor area ratio (FAR) and total revenue have shown a growth trend. The annual growth rate is about 5%. The largest growth drivers arefrom the India and Mainland China markets, which pertain to an annual growth rate of more than 7%. Others such as Thailand, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan also performed well. It is evident that Asia is one of the fastest-, Malaysia and mainland China, will be major areas of growth.
(2) Entering the Asian market by M&A In recent years, there has been a clear trend that more global well-known and large-scale exhibition groups have entered the Asian market by means of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A), and have started to organize sub-exhibitions of a series of exhibition brands in Asia. Take UBM Asia (UBM) and Reed Exhibitions for instance, they have been conducting M&A and organizing exhibitions in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia etc. Another example is CES, the largest consumer electronics show in the United States,opened CES Asiain Shanghai. In 2017, UBM Asia handled 14 exhibitions in Mainland China, which greatly changed the layout and market competition of the local exhibition industry. Therefore, it is expected that exhibition companies in Asian countries will also have strategic cooperation and alliances with foreign exhibition groups,in order to strengthen its competitive advantage in its own regional markets and to enter other foreign markets.
(3) Smart Expo
With the rapid development of science and technology, new technologies have changed the way people relate to each other in terms of communication and trading methods, which has largely shortened the actual distance; while the manner in which exhibitions are organized has also been greatly affected. Traditional trade fairs have not been implemented to meet demands, but to apply the latest technologies such as digitized exhibitions, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, virtual and augmented reality (AR/VR), big data analysis, online and offline integration (O2O) and more, providing exhibitors and buyers with updates and a better exhibition experience. The following are some of the technology features that I believe will be integrated into the exhibition experience for organizers and visitors alike.
A. Digital Exhibitions & Big Data Analytics: A new type of exhibition marketing model driven by ‘data’ is in the process of being formed, and has accelerated the digitalization of physical exhibitions. Through digitalization, all kinds of interactive methods, negotiation and trade activities are more efficient and can reach more target clients. Exhibition organizers can also leverage the use of the exhibition’s data, using big data analysis to plan and enhance services to compete with other exhibitions or marketing channels. By encouraging both visitors and exhibitors to use the exhibition APP, organizers can count the number of APP users, visitor statistics and onsite traffic flow, as well as receive immediate feedback.
B. Development of Personalized technology:
In order to stand out, customized services are also popular. With the development and application of personalized technologies, the organizers and manufacturers can create exclusive content for visitors. Facial recognition technology can collect big data, automatically generate information to visitors they may be interested in, collect and analyze visitors’ moods, predict their preferences,and simply for the organizers’ reference. Such data can be used to identify the event’s access control to improve exhibition experience; or through the use of an exhibition APP onsite and positioning system, in conjunction with the buyer’s requirements, provide the buyers with a unique tour route and a list of recommended exhibitors. By doing so, exhibitors can reach target buyers and help match exhibitors and visitors.
C. AI & Robots:
Large companies such as Google, Microsoft, and NVIDIA have continued to expand and develop and with them, development of AI and robots. The exhibition industry also anticipates the use of AI and robots to reduce the cost of communicating with customers, allow for big data analysis, and digital assistants and robots can be more seamlessly implemented in the exhibition experience.
D. Social Media &Live Streaming:
Social media is already an important channel for social networking and access to information in people’s daily lives. Its influence is far-reaching and is even more effective than traditional television and print advertising. Therefore, community marketing has already become the main source of various activities, and also plays an important role in exhibitions and events promotion. Today, as a result of improved broadband communication technology, live-streaming applications are becoming increasingly popular, which greatly narrows the distance between onsite participants and online audiences. Sharing of live videos during the exhibition activities will not only expand the scope of marketing and maximize marketing effectiveness, but also develop potential customers and reach target customers.
(4) Changes in Exhibition Management:
With the changes in new technology applications and the way people interact with each other, the exhibition has also changed from being a purely transactional and media-based platform to an experience-focused platform, rich with diverse content, and fun-filled forms of “gamification” and “diversification”. Since it began influencing exhibition management, many exhibitions are now gradually starting to collaborate with other conferences and forums, or even become integrated into a single event, so as to form a pattern of ‘exhibitions in the conference, conference in the exhibitions’,thereby creating more activity and experiences, and meeting modern-day commercial needs. For example, important forums are held annually at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Computex Taipei. Apart from Business Matchmaking and exhibiting new products and services, it is also important to gather the industry’s main players to host meetings and exchange opinions.
(5) Events integral to City Marketing;
Due to the recent expansion of the exhibition industry’s output value, many emerging markets such as Mainland China are building large-scale exhibition centers with new facilities. Therefore, regional cities – neither first-tier nor capital cities – are being promoted to the world, by organizing well-known international exhibitions and forums there. In addition to the large number of visitors, vendors and business opportunities that flow from exhibitions, they also lead to subsequent developments in tourism and the employment of the local population. The Pyeongchang Olympics in Korea, the BRIC Summit in Xiamen and the Taiwan International Boat Show in Kaohsiung, are all the good examples of the success of MICE events.
(6) Experiential Economy
Faced with the competition of virtual technology and online transactions, exhibitions are now paying more attention to the ‘experience’, and subsequently, the growth and expansion of the experiential economy. The exhibition will no longer merely be a one-way ‘message’ platform, but will also allow visitors to interact with exhibitors and strengthen the ‘experience’ for visitors. Visitors will be both receive an introduction into the product itself as well as actually experience and use the products, and visit product manufacturing sites. Therefore, in order to compete with online channels, it would seem that exhibitions in the future will enhance visitors’ direct experience.