Asia Is Opening Up to International Events—Slowly

Woman tourist looking at Kuala Lumpur twin tower in Malaysia

Meeting professionals are starting to rebook events in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, but continuing waves of Covid and cautious restrictions from some countries are resulting in a slow restart. This on-again-off-again dynamic was evident in the responses to an American Express Global Meetings and Events Forecast from last year that found 62% of respondents in the area expected attendee numbers to return to pre-pandemic numbers in the next one to two years.

One vivid example: Earlier this summer, Japan reopened its borders to up to 20,000 daily visitors with some restrictions. As the country is facing its seventh Covid wave, international travelers must be part of a guided package tour, led by an escort.

Responses by countries in the region have varied greatly. While countries like Japan have expressed hesitance to reopening, others have opened up completely to visitors and business events of all kinds.

State of Singaporean Events

Other Asian countries, such as Singapore, have had relatively minimal levels of regulation. But challenges remain. PCMA Convening Leaders 2022, scheduled to take place Sept. 7-9 in the country, following two months of virtual events, cancelled when logistics couldn’t be overcome.

“Limited budgets, increasing travel costs, intense workload and the extended border restrictions have proven to be a barrier in our efforts to deliver an impactful and meaningful Convening Asia Pacific for all stakeholders,” Florence Chua, managing director of PCMA APAC, wrote in an email to potential attendees.

Read MorePCMA Leads with Protocols, Inclusion and Transparency

A new date has yet to be announced. The last PCMA Convening Asia Pacific was held in Sydney in 2020. PCMA Convening Leaders 2021 hybrid event broadcast from a hub in Singapore in January, a last-minute shift from Houston, Texas, where it was scheduled in North America. In January of 2022, the signature event was held at CAESARS FORUM in Las Vegas.

Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS), announced it will continue its 2022 gatherings and beyond.

“After two challenging years, the MICE and Events industry finds itself at a critical phase in our journey towards recovery,” Richard Ireland, president of SACEOS, said in a statement. “2022 needs to see a move towards a more normalized environment and we are hopeful that with the government’s commitment towards living with Covid as an endemic, we are firmly on that pathway. While we all have a long way to go, I believe we can achieve great things if we work together as a MICE community.”

A Case Study in Malaysia

The 45th International Advertising Association (IAA) World Congress, set to be held in Penang, Malaysia, held every five years, has largely missed out on the hiccups of other attempts to gather during that period. The 44th edition of IAA World Congress was held February 2019 in Kochi, India, long before the public knew the word “Covid.”

Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) reported a surge in demand for in-person events—127 global meetings booked from 2022 to 2024—since Malaysia reopened in April. Since then, KLCC has hosted nearly 300 in-person events that amounted to roughly 200,000 attendees. “The ease of doing business in Malaysia, its experienced supply chain and the widespread use and proficiency of English are among the primary factors attracting global events to the country,” the report read.

Read MoreThe International Expansion of Industry Associations

Malaysian Minister of Health Khairy Jamaluddin has hinted at reinstating stricter pandemic enforcement, pointing to the decline of Covid compliance. That may or may not impact IAA World Congress in 2024.

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