The term untact describes South Korea’s plan for a contact-free society. Since the outbreak of pandemic situations, many industries have shifted their business in the untact mode. Now, on top of providing the temporary untact services, they are preparing to turn their services into completely digitalised ones.

The meeting industry, which had provided face-to-face services as the essence of its core services, suffered a very severe decline even in the early part of the last year. In the early part of the year 2020, when the warning sound toward Covid-19 began to ring, the meeting industry of Korea stopped altogether, along with the total lock-down of all convention centres in the country.

In particular, amid the lock-down of all convention centres, one trade show was in the course of its opening last May. Then governmental officers came to the facility to close the exhibition by force. Out of 7,022 trade shows and conventions scheduled to be held in 2020, 5,580 cases were cancelled, occupying about 80 per cent.

As already being introduced widely by many international media, Korea’s quarantine system, unlike other countries, had calmed down the increase in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19, making the spread of the virus relatively less noticeable in Korea than in other countries.

In May 2020, convention centres could reopen themselves, though there was one more short lock-down. From the second part of last year, all events have been held as scheduled, and from then on, great new changes began to appear in Korea’s meeting industry.

Korea’s meeting industry, unlike that of other countries, has unique structural features. In Korea, about 1,100 PCOs (Professional Congress Organisers) are registered nationwide and rendering their services (as of January 2020).

Though they are not thought to work as meeting planners, at least 200 or more PCOs are expected to get their revenues from their meeting planning activities. About 100 PCOs out of them are judged to generate their revenues mainly from meeting businesses.

Though Korea once recorded the first global ranking in terms of the number of hosting international meetings according to the UIA standard, the number of registered PCOs is peculiar compared to other countries’ circumstances.

Rarely, meeting hosts (such as associations, academic societies, corporates) hire meeting planners directly in Korea. In the case of enterprises, employees from the marketing department can handle part of the work similar to meeting planning.

Only large-scale academic associations, big enough to have separate spaces for the secretariate offices, can have their staff directly serve as meeting planners. As for the business associations, there are few hiring meeting planners of their own.

When governments, both central and regional, government agencies (for example, policy research institutes, industry promotion agencies), associations, and academic societies are to host any event, they get meeting planning and running services by making a hiring contract with one or more PCOs through public bidding.

“Only large-scale academic associations, big enough to have separate spaces for the secretariate offices, can have their staff directly serve as meeting planners”

Such a format between a host and a contracted PCO does not allow PCOs a stable income source. It works as a demerit in that the growth of their business under such a mechanism is constrained. From the standpoint of PCOs, however, the fact that they must get orders from event holders through bidding had made PCOs always be equipped with the attitude of studying various industries.

I, who have worked in the meeting industry in Korea for more than 20 years, have steadily and eagerly raised such a structural problem Korean PCOs have when running their business, as I mentioned above.

Ironically enough, however, it seems that such a complex business structure has been a great help for PCOs to survive under such a pandemic.

For about three months from February to May 2020, Korean PCOs, exerting all their efforts to predict the future society to be shifted as an untact one, had a lot of thoughts about how to run any event smoothly under such an untact situation. At last, such fierce contemplations have enabled new platforms to be born.

Last May, the first untact trade show called Bio Korea was held. It was an exhibition related to pharmaceuticals, where two versions of event platforms were introduced: One was the metaverse format, a program utilising game engines was presented in splendid images.

The other was the production of the exhibition space by applying the 3D design (which is widely used in general). Even back then, the concept of metaverse was very new and unfamiliar to Korea’s meeting industry.

On top of that, it was cumbersome to download the program and then log in for its access. Naturally, more events were operated by 3D design. Nevertheless, while experiencing Virtual Bio Korea’s event, many PCOs have tried to find out the most suitable platform that can best meet their needs for each event. They are to handle successfully by analysing the merits and demerits of various systems.

In the case of Korea, since the introduction of such a virtual event platform last May, most meetings have been held online or in the form of a hybrid. From 2021 and on, there have been a few conferences cancelled, but all events have been operated on the correct dates as scheduled. The marriage between Korea’s ICT technology and meeting business appears in various forms, and some of them are introduced as follows.

Events where technology is applied through grafting generate wow effects in the operational perspective and suggest a new attempt to substantiate and grow.

Though it’s been quite a while since we discussed the importance of big data, there have been few cases where such big data are utilised in the domains of meetings and exhibitions. Under such circumstances, the event called Broadcast Worldwide (BCWW) had been held online and in the hybrid form.

By running real-time broadcastings and dealing with film contents transactions online, this event has offered real-time data that both exhibitors and buyers could put to good use greatly.

For example, the real-time information is available through various filtering by such categories as the contents having the most reservation for the transaction, the exhibition booths where the most meetings are appointed, the contents that Chinese buyers like the most, and so on.

Therefore, the responses of both exhibitors and buyers were very much positive. In addition, the various data on both exhibitors and buyers are accumulated, which will be of great help to set up the direction any event should take for its development.

“From 2021 and on, there have been a few conferences cancelled, but all events have been operated on the correct dates as scheduled”

In 2021, much more technology-intensive events were held. Some of them are introduced at the time of their opening as follows. On May 30, the P4G Summit was held at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) in Seoul.

Though the participation of summit-level leaders from 50 countries in person was expected, the event was held in hybrid. One of the most impressive parts of this event was the Opening Address by the President of Korea, where AR technology was grafted.

In the space of DDP, only the podium was set up, which was surrounded by amazing scenes of waterfalls, deer, and birds flying in the sky. Those background scenes were made of Augmented Reality (AR) and broadcast live. The scene that attracted viewers’ attention most made viewers feel as if the President was delivering his speech in the middle of the forest.

The multi-lateral talk through the monitor screen was more essentially critical than AR solution, among the technologies applied for P4G.

The tremendous success of this video conference by summit leaders lies right in the never-cut off internet network connection and blunder-free operation. In particular, since the Internet network connection might be unstable in some countries like those from Africa and Southwest Asia, a specific measure was taken:

Korean Telecom sent Internet networks to individual countries mentioned above so that they could use Korean telecommunication networks. In addition, through Cisco, a separate video-conference system was developed and utilised so that the host country could control the operation and security directly.

The 2021 Korean Agriculture Show was held in the form of an online exhibition. What makes this exhibition particular is that the ‘Roblox game’ was utilised as its special event.

The field called ‘agriculture’ could not attract sufficient interest of the general public, and hence, agriculture-related activities like ‘Wheat Cutting’ and ‘Horse Feeding’ were operated through games. The outstanding achievement made during the exhibition period is that more than 1.2 million visitors enjoyed experiencing actual rural life through Roblox.

The last case, World Knowledge Forum, was held in October. It is a 22-year-old event representing Korea. This year, the forum was operated by combining metaverse with offline events. Most events are usually held in the form of either metaverse or hybrid. But this forum was the first attempt of its kind in that both metaverse and offline events were concurrently run.

It was refreshing that offline participants in their forties could meet youngsters of the MZ generation who participated in the metaverse. This event recorded a pretty high level of participants’ satisfaction.

Many events will employ more various technologies, and new attempts will be continuously made. However, we should steadily ponder and seriously study the essential nature of meetings and analyse what participants want. By doing so, we try to make every single event a great satisfaction to all.