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The show must go on: How these Singapore events firms are tapping on tech to survive COVID-19

In Singapore’s event industry, approximately SGD 30.2 million has been lost, with more than 2,000 people affected and over 8,700 jobs lost.

Zoukout. Via Vulcan Post

The events industry in Singapore has ground to a halt following the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

On March 20, the Ministry of Health announced that all events and gatherings with 250 or more people attending at any one time must be suspended until June 30 to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

Later on March 24, the multi-ministry taskforce tightened the rule and banned all events and any gatherings of more than 10 people.

These government prohibitions meant that business conferences, trade shows, music festivals and concerts, corporate events, and even weddings, must either be put on hold or cancelled.

Needless to say, the sudden dearth of events has badly impacted the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) industry. In fact, it can be argued that the events industry was the first to be affected by COVID-19.

It has affected not only the organizers, but also the vendors and freelancers who ply their trade in this space.

According to I Lost My Gig—a website that records losses from COVID-19—approximately SGD 30.2 million has been lost, with over 2,000 people affected and over 8,700 jobs lost (figures are accurate at time of writing).

Vulcan Post spoke to two players in the local events industry to see how they are dealing with this disruption and how they are rising to the challenges of COVID-19.

Events Industry Hit By Wave Of Cancellations

Speaking to Stefan Lim, country head of PouchNATION Singapore, he said that he witnessed event organizers mainly postponing their events towards the third and fourth quarter of this year.

To date, PouchNATION has helped support major events and festivals in the region such as Good Vibes Festival, ZoukOut Singapore, Sentosa GrillFest, 18th Asian Games (Media Gathering), and Forbes Under 30 Summit 2018.

While they have indeed experienced some losses due to this downturn, Stefan said that as a tech-driven company, they can operate both offline and online, which helps to cushion their losses.

A local events firm that specializes in organizing offline events however, has been challenged by greater depth.

Silver Adrienna Ng, managing director of Scenestealer. Photo courtesy of Scenestealer via Vulcan Post.

Called Scenestealer, it organizes various events from art installations to lifestyle launches and community festivals. Its most recent project is Intergalatica Odyssey @ ArtScience Museum, which is an immersive, multimedia space exhibition.

According to Silver Adrienna Ng, managing director of Scenestealer, one of its first few events that got cancelled was a cross-region maritime seminar organized for Norway and Singapore.

Subsequently, lifestyle events for several shopping malls started to pull out, and brand activation campaigns for large-scale music festivals such as HydeOut got postponed.

She added that it has been a huge challenge for her to sustain the business while incurring revenue losses and bearing overhead expenses.

At the same time, she also has to find “new channels of engagement in the digital world” as well as help shift clients’ mindsets towards the digital world on event organizing.

Financial Losses Not Comforted By Lack Of Gov’t Support

To add salt to the wound, Silver feels that the local events industry is overlooked in terms of government aid.

She has even written an appeal letter requesting for an extension of higher support under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), but has yet to receive any replies.

Stefan echoed her sentiments, adding that events indeed play a big part in tourism as a lot of their festivals and conferences see a good percentage of attendees flying in to Singapore.

Pivoting To Online Events

As a result of the current disruption in events, PouchNATION has recently diversified their products offering to launch a new vertical—digital events—which offers an alternative for event organizers to stream events online.

Stefan Lim, country head of PouchNATION Singapore. Photo courtesy of Stefan Lim via Vulcan Post.

According to Stefan, PouchNATION’s online products are seeing a “huge demand” at the moment. In fact, they are confirmed to be broadcasting events in Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines starting next week.

However, taking such events online is a different ballpark and requires a new set of considerations.

For Scenestealer, Silver said that this is the time for them to “adapt and redesign” the way they organize events, adding that pivoting to virtual events is definitely a “direction (they) are steering the boat towards during this time.”

The Silver Lining Of COVID-19

Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has brought about, Stefan said that the pandemic has also opened up a business opportunity for them.

The event technology solution provider currently offers services like RFID wristbands and cards for cashless payment, user behavior, and traffic data tracking, offline engagement mechanics on- and off-site, as well as e-ticketing.

Beyond these services, PouchNATION is looking at launching a new product in the wake of COVID-19: body temperature screening wristbands.

Future Of The Events Industry

PouchNATION recently conducted a survey with market leaders that discusses the effects of Covid-19 on the regional events industry.

Stefan said that the overall outlook is “quite positive” and cited some key findings:

  • Entertainment is coming back starting Q3 this year—in smaller scale first, before progressively opening up more
  • Sponsors and brands will start investing more from early next year
  • New products will emerge, and among the most prominent will be online events
  • Technology will play a much bigger role in the future of the industry such as data collection, contactless payments, health-screening technology and contact tracing.

With PouchNATION’s move towards digital events and health-screening technology, Stefan is confident that they are on the right track, but finds it a challenge to “make everyone aware of the advantages in a short time with a limited budget.”

In line with the last survey finding, Silver feels that the future of the events industry will encompass technology by large, such as the personalization of participants’ touchpoints and livestreaming in support of face-to-face events.

The rise of online events is clear to see, but both Stefan and Silver feel that it will not end up cannibalizing face-to-face events in the future.

Silver agrees, adding that digital events alone cannot replicate the sensory experience of face-to-face events, as evoked by our human sense of touch, smell and taste.

She added that digital events are merely an extension of face-to-face events—it’s a “hybrid combination to amplify audience reach.”

This article first appeared in the Vulcan Post.