Could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do here at OML Consulting?
Nigel: My name is Nigel Brown and I’m now based in Singapore for almost ten years. My background is in hospitality and business events. I started off my career as a chef in fine-dining kitchens and then moved on to hospitality management and business events. I started off in Singapore at the Singapore EXPO, working on trade and consumer exhibitions conferences. I then moved on to consultancy, working for an Australian firm who are specialising in destination marketing, so advising convention bureaus and convention centres. Five years ago, I set up my own business here in Singapore and through that, started also as a founding partner at OML Consulting.
How have the meetings and hospitality industries changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Nigel: I think the industry has changed in many aspects. The meetings and hospitality industry, I would say, are one of the hardest-hit sectors. Obviously, with travel restrictions and with restrictions on groups of people coming together, there’s been a huge impact on both the hospitality and business events industry. In terms of the hospitality sector, there’s been lots of change in terms of hygiene standards, making sure that properties are safe, staff members are safe, and guests are safe. Obviously, they have been hit hard with occupancy rates because nobody is travelling, so they have to come up with new ways to keep things running. Some examples of that in Singapore are that some of the hotels here have been offering rooms or the common areas within the hotel for people to be able to work. People can rent a space in the lobby, for example, or one of their guest rooms for the day. You can see the hotels having to shift their focus to keep the doors open. Another area that you’ll see them focus on is using this opportunity to train their staff members.
In terms of the meeting industry, with restrictions on crowd sizes and people gathering, organisers have had to go digital. Meeting planners have already been doing that in some shape or form but now it has forced everyone to go digital. For many, it’s been a very steep learning curve, as people are still not very comfortable with technology and its capabilities. It has sort of been a kick start of the digital space in the meetings industry coming into the forefront and forcing everyone to adapt. Another major effect of all these digital meetings has been on destinations. Now that face-to-face meetings are not taking place it has a major impact on the local economy with no hotel beds being filled, no money being spent in local businesses and a missed opportunity for local knowledge transfer. Destinations will have to look at other ways they can still support digital meetings whilst still getting an ROI for their local stakeholders.
Do you think that organisations will continue having virtual events and webinars even post-COVID?
Nigel: A lot of organisations have been forced to look at the digital space to deliver their meetings and I think this has been a tough time for people to learn all these new technologies and learn what platforms are out there in the marketplace. However, once they have shifted to that, I think many have realised that there is merit to keep on producing online events even after things have relatively gone back to normal. I think they are seeing that a number of the events that were traditionally organised face-to-face could be done online. For example, a board meeting for an international trade association where you’ll have various board members flying in from different locations across the world, to have a meeting. Is this really necessary? Can we not do this online? Organisations will be asking themselves those questions and we will be shifting more meetings online so they can focus all their efforts to those meetings that merit a face-to-face component. I do think people are feeling fed up with virtual meetings and are feeling ‘Zoom fatigue’. They can’t wait to get back to face-to-face because digital can’t replace networking during a coffee break at a conference, for example. However, I feel that organisations will be looking to justify going face-to-face or online for every meeting they organise so this is a shift.
There are certain elements which can be done virtually and would be saving time, money, and effort, on the part of the organisers but also from a sustainability perspective, it is also a good thing because there would be less travel. I think people are jumping to get back into face-to-face meetings but I do think that there’s a space for virtual components in events. So what you’ll see is hybrid events coming to the forefront where you will have a live face-to-face meeting but then you also have an online audience that can’t travel or are not willing to travel, joining the meeting remotely. In that sense, it sort of extends the life of that particular event, but adding a hybrid component does require additional planning and technology solutions to make sure the live and online worlds coexist and intertwine.
One other thing that is an advantage of virtual events is obviously all the data that can be collected. If you have a 5,000-person conference tuning into an online event, you’re going to be generating a huge amount of data that you probably won’t be generating if you were meeting face-to-face. That data can be used to further develop your programme for future events because you can really get into the nitty-gritty of how your delegates are behaving with your sessions, content, speakers. So that’s definitely another big plus.
What is one advice that you would like to share to companies looking at hosting events and webinars online?
Nigel: Be open-minded. I think there are a lot of technophobes out there. Technology is your friend in these times with an abundance of great and easy to use tools, which would allow you to produce professional-looking events and webinars. The pandemic has fast-tracked the development of tools to run virtual meetings and make them more engaging.
Take the time to look at the options out there, consider working with people that are knowledgeable in that area to see what’s going on, and take it with baby steps. It is a learning process but again, it’s all about going back to what you are trying to achieve with your event or webinar, and then looking at where you can use technology to maximise the outcome of that meeting.
About the Author
Nigel Brown is a founding partner of OML Consulting. He has close to 20 years experience in the international business events industry organising events ranging from 10–1,000 delegates on all continents. Most recently, Nigel obtained his certification as a certified virtual meeting planner for the EventsAir OnAir virtual meeting platform.