Talking digital and physical events with Chien-Ee Yeh
Published: April 2021
As China continues to lead the way back to in-person events, Chien-Ee Yeh, President of Reed Exhibitions Asia Pacific, shares some insights into the company’s digital innovations, the safe reopening of their shows, and what 2021 holds in store.
Q. Reed Exhibitions had great success in quickly pivoting to webinars when the pandemic struck in China. Can you share some of your results and learnings?
A. As soon as the scale of the crisis became apparent last year, we knew we had a responsibility to help our customers through it. Within two weeks our China team were delivering free virtual webinars and business meetings across six of our events, including Packcon, Sino Corrugated, Shenzhen Gift, Nepcon China and CDATF, to help customers sustain their business through the crisis. Overall, in 2020, we organized 300 webinars in China that attracted some 1.2 million virtual attendees, and a customer satisfaction rate of 87%. The webinars were a great way to reconnect with our visitors during the pandemic, and attract new audiences. Our data shows that large numbers of our webinar attendees (ranging from 45% to 92%) have converted into pre-registered visitors for our returning physical events. The content that we have shared in the webinars has also served as a good reference for us to curate our onsite conference programmes.
Q. China was the first country to reopen its events. What measures were taken to reassure customers that it was safe to return?
A. The health and safety of Reed Exhibitions' employees, partners, exhibitors and visitors is our top priority. We worked closely with our venues and partners to ensure the most stringent health and safety standards on site, in line with the Chinese Governments’ Epidemic Prevention Program (EPP) and local authority requirements. In addition, we adhered to Reed Exhibitions’ own global security exhibition strategy and five-point health and safety plan, originally published in July 2020 and updated in January 2021 to reflect the evolving epidemic, and the latest thinking and practices.
With regards to social distancing, there were specific guidelines in China on the maximum capacity of visitors that we could accommodate on the show floor in different cities during different periods. Each of our events in 2020 had to adhere to very specific crowd control policies implemented by the local government, with strict regulation to determine and control the number of visitors entering and leaving the halls each hour. Whilst fully complying with these requirements we were able to deliver good value to our exhibitors by maintaining the maximum allowed density of the visitors within the halls.
Clear communication was key to ensuring that our customers understood the reasons for our health and safety measures and were happy to support them. Once onsite, they appreciated our efforts, particularly as they realised that most show activities could proceed with little disruption.
Most, though not all, of our events experienced a reduction in the numbers of exhibitors and visitors, which was to be expected given travel restrictions and regional COVID flare-ups. The main issue was the lack of international exhibitors and visitors due to travel bans, however by the last quarter of 2020 we had converted our events to a hybrid model. This allowed international customers to engage with the event through new digital offerings such as live streaming, virtual meetings, remote exhibiting, webinars and more.
Q. Based on your experiences in China, how has the pandemic affected customer confidence in physical events?
A. Customer confidence in, and demand for, face-to-face events remains strong. The Shenzhen Gift and Home Fair is a great example of the pent-up demand that we have experienced. The Shenzhen Spring Gift Show in June 2020 was the first major event to be opened post lockdown in China. Held in a new venue, the Shenzhen World Exhibition and Convention Centre, it was 35% bigger in scale than the 2019 show, filling 62,000sqm net. Over 90,000 visitors attended, and whilst there was a slight dip on 2019 this was exceptional given the many travel restrictions in place. Returning customer confidence was strongly demonstrated in the Autumn edition, held in October 2020. Not only was the show 44% bigger but attendance was also up to 102,000. In all, a record 2,500 exhibitors took part, including over 100 export-focused exhibitors attending for the first time. 82% of exhibitors and 86% of visitors surveyed said that they would return to the next show.
Q. Can you share some insights into how our digital tools and hybrid events are enabling us to engage customers who are still unable to attend our events in China?
A. During the COVID period, we introduced a range of digital activities to help customers to meet their branding, learning and sourcing needs, including educational and sales webinars, WeChat/Facebook live streaming, online matchmaking and meetings services, and more.
Once we had reopened our events, we developed hybrid brand strategies to enable exhibitors to build and maintain vital connections with international buyers who are not physically able to attend.
For example, Nepcon launched a series of ‘digital only’ events to augment their physical show. The first, last August, attracted over 8,000 attendees – 6,601 to the live one-day event, and an additional 1,435 on demand during a subsequent ‘Playback Day.’ 138 exhibitors took part and there was significant engagement with content, including 17,929 vendor presentation views, 415 video meetings and nearly 5,775 online chat sessions. The latest edition, in March 2021, was jointly organised between our Vietnam and Korea offices, enabling Nepcon exhibitors to connect with buyers in those countries.
Similarly, Converting Live was held online in January 2021 to reconnect with our customers and inject energy into sales ahead of our physical Sino-Corrugated events in July 2021. Over the course of the one-day event, 125 exhibitors livestreamed direct from their customers’ factories, demonstrating their machinery in action. Together, they attracted 8,246 visitors from China and abroad to watch the virtual demos, and interact with exhibitors. Key to the event’s success was the comprehensive online training programme we delivered in advance of the show, to familiarise exhibitors with live streaming technology and help them present their people and products confidently and professionally.
Q. What are your hopes for the industry in 2021 and beyond? What upcoming events can customers look forward to?
The Chinese economy is growing against the trend, and there is huge unleashed potential in the Chinese market. In March, we delivered four events in the health, beauty and lifestyle sectors in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing, including a hybrid edition of FIBO China, the first on-site fitness show since the pandemic began. Coming up in April is the 30th anniversary of Nepcon China in Shanghai, which will also be a hybrid edition. We are expecting 160 physical exhibitors and 30,000 physical visitors, plus another 10 remote exhibitors and 10,000 virtual visitors who are unable to attend in person.
Looking at the whole of 2021, we are planning to hold close to 90 exhibitions in Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) ‒ a rate of almost one show every four days – and will continue with our "offline plus online" hybrid events allowing customers to connect and do business 365 days a year.