Interview with George Cao, CEO and Co-Founder, Dragon Trail International

Interview with George Cao, CEO and Co-Founder, Dragon Trail International

What’s the state of MICE in the APAC region now? What steps can destinations and businesses take to accelerate the recovery of the MICE sector in Asia and beyond?

Recovery depends very much on the success of pandemic control within the destination country or region. China offers a really interesting case study in post-pandemic business events, in that thanks to effective controls on the spread of COVID-19, both small- and large-scale business events returned to China as early as spring 2020 and have continued since then. These events are very much domestic rather than international. And while there have been a number of major industry exhibitions, small-scale events for associations or corporations have been the easiest to organize and fastest to rebound.

In terms of accelerating the recovery, the most important thing after controlling the pandemic is to be ready to go as soon as there’s an opportunity. This means keeping the industry connected, and especially communicating what changes or developments have been made since the pandemic began – for example, in safety measures to improve ventilation or technological upgrades that would enable an events space to run hybrid events.

At Dragon Trail, we’ve facilitated these kinds of industry connections and kept communication channels open through our virtual events platform, The Next Travel Market (TNTM). One example of this is at last year’s Hong Kong Virtual MICE Trade Show, which brought together more than 80 Hong Kong MICE suppliers to conduct business meetings and share information with more than 200 MICE buyers in mainland China, with virtual meetings, live presentations, and extensive informational resources to access and download on meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions in Hong Kong. The event included a three-day conference and more than 1,300 business meetings over two months.

More recently, we’ve partnered with the Singapore Tourism Board to launch the SingapoReimagine China Virtual Travel Mart 2021, a virtual event with thousands of business meetings between Chinese buyers and the Singaporean travel industry, alongside exhibitor presentations, weekly webinars, and virtual FAM trips, including content specifically on Singapore’s MICE sector, featuring Resorts World Sentosa, Marina Bay Sands, and The National Gallery Singapore.

How do you think tech solutions developed over the past year might impact business events and exhibitions in the long run?

The pandemic has significantly accelerated the development of technology that can help business events to become more cost-effective, reach a wider audience, and increase ROI in the future. While industry and business communities will be keen to have in-person events once more, these can be supplemented by virtual events running alongside them.

On-demand conference sessions available online, for example, mean that you never need to miss a panel discussion or presentation again because of a scheduling conflict. The development of smart pre-event matchmaking systems for online events can also help make the meetings side of offline events more fruitful. Attendance at events can be increased by integrating offline and online, so that even those who can’t travel in person can participate in a meaningful way.

Another promising option is to keep events running past the dates of the offline event, through an online platform. This allows exhibitors and buyers to more easily keep conversations going and helps delegates to get the meetings and information they want even if there isn’t enough time during the physical event. Especially at major industry exhibitions where it can be difficult to schedule everything you want to do into just two or three days, these options made possible through technology could dramatically increase impact and value.

It’s widely accepted that nothing can replace in-person meetings and events, but do you see any advantages of a virtual model for driving engagement and business connections?

For meetings, a virtual model absolutely has some advantages over traditional in-person events. One of these is that the event can go for much longer, giving delegates more flexibility about when to schedule meetings, and opportunity for follow up.

Another thing we’ve found at Dragon Trail is how effectively you can drive meeting completion with a combination of intelligent pre-event matchmaking, and incentives for buyers. It’s easier to track things like meeting completion and satisfaction rate through a virtual meeting platform, thus providing a better quantitative framework for assessing an event.

Another upside of digital events is being able to effectively track which buyers visit a virtual booth, download materials, and attend conference sessions, in addition to meetings, so exhibitors can get a very clear picture about who the most interested and active buyers are, and focus future efforts on following up and closing deals with these most promising leads.

Lastly, digital events provide more value and increased options for sponsors, with the ability to track views and clicks, and delivery of sponsored content to delegates that can have a far greater impact than traditional sponsorship options such as branded lanyards or bags.

What has been your experience working with hybrid events? Do you expect these to become the new normal, post-pandemic?

We have done a couple of hybrid events for the travel industry in China, and found that these work really well and can be an effective way for companies and events to pull off more ambitious programs at a lower cost, well beyond the pandemic.

In 2020, our first hybrid event was a travel industry media awards show, with strong participation both in person and online. The hybrid set-up allowed winners to accept their awards virtually, including many who were overseas and wouldn’t have been able to travel internationally, but also at least one winner who was based in a different city in China and couldn’t travel to Beijing for the event.

Then in March 2021, we connected London and Shanghai at the Seatrade Maritime Awards International, aka “The Oscars of the Shipping Industry.” Moving forward, companies and organizations will need to assess the time, money, and carbon footprint of long-haul travel, especially for one-day events. Having excellent hybrid capabilities now offers an attractive and practical alternative.

Any major surprises working with the MICE sector during the pandemic?

With the MICE and travel sector more generally, I’ve been impressed with how engaged the Chinese travel trade has stayed since the very beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

They continue to embrace new technologies and make sure they’re up to date with the latest information on destinations and venues.

Even with outbound travel still off the table, the travel industry remains highly active and ready to hit the ground running as soon as they can.

About Dragon Trail International:
Dragon Trail International is an award-winning marketing solutions company with roots in China and extensive experience in the global travel and MICE industries. Since 2009, our international team of digital solutions and marketing specialists has been helping leading brands around the world to become more globally connected and competitive. Our clients span the travel, MICE, education, and trade sectors, including national and regional destination marketing organizations, event organizers, international organizations, hotels, airlines, cruise lines, attractions, retailers and more.

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