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The Hybrid Industry: Past, Present, and The Future

From our social plans to our everyday work culture, there really is little in our lives that the COVID-19 pandemic has left untouched. Work has shifted from the office to our home, exams are now given online instead of in schools; industries have undergone extreme renovations too, with healthcare apps like India’s Apollo Hospitals garnering immense popularity in the medical sector and indoor dining in the restaurant industry being replaced instead with takeout options. The common denominator in all of these scenarios is that in the eventual future, when the effects of the pandemic are nothing more than terrifying markers in history, soon, things will go back to normal. 

People will return to in-person work, indoor dining will again become the norm – the same cannot be said for the MICE industry.


Put simply, the MICE industry (also known as the meetings or event industry so as not to be confused with rodents) is a sector of tourism in which lots of people travel to attend meetings, business-related incentive travel such as vacations (a form of incentive), conferences, and exhibitions. Meetings can range from anything between employee training seminars to director-only board meetings at a company. 

Personnel involved in these arrangements include event planners – like Bangladesh Brand Forum – beverage managers, hotels, and tourism boards. According to a report (Sable, Roy, & Deshmukh, 2019) upon the global industry analysis of the MICE industry, it was valued at approximately $805 billion during 2017 and is projected to reach around $1439.30 billion by the year 2025. 

Unfortunately, these figures did not take into account the devastating impact of the pandemic. The spread of COVID-19 drastically changed the landscape of the tourism industry. International travel restrictions, closure of hotels, and measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as a whole have significantly altered its scenario; but what makes the changes in MICE truly different is that even in an upcoming pandemic-free future, it is unlikely that the practices will return to the way they were again.


The Coronavirus pandemic has affected almost every possible industry to a certain extent in a direct or indirect manner. Among those however, the damages wrought to the MICE tourism sector are arguably the most. The reasoning behind this is simple: a successful MICE event depends on a multitude of factors ranging from the availability of international flight tickets to the successful management of a venue. In order to control the spread of the virus, during the past year, there have been numerous restrictions implemented on traveling around the world, with some countries even suspending MICE events. 

The resulting decline in tourism, hotel bookings, flight bookings and more have put a significant dent in the industry. For example, according to an analysis published by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the amount spent by tourists in Bangladesh (international tourism receipts) has dropped by 44% in 2020 compared to 2019. An article published by The Jakarta Post in Indonesia shed even more light on the matter – they stated that the MICE industry suffered a devastating loss of around $3.1 billion US dollars during 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Due to the limitations set during the pandemic scenario, the majority of MICE events have adapted from on-site measures to virtual and even hybrid ones. This has led to the discovery of some unprecedented advantages. “Virtual events are somewhat convenient,” shared Rameesa Jameel, Contributor of The Daily Star. “For example, when attending seminars there are no longer any travel costs.”  Despite this positive aspect however, she also mentioned some of the added grievances. “There is the problem of internet connection during the events and the smaller opportunities for networking. To be honest, it just doesn’t feel the same.”

In the past year, online MICE events have become the new norm. Popular virtual platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet have become the global stage on which individuals from all over the world gather to participate in the events; they don’t require involvement from businesses in the tourism sector (such as airlines and hotels). With a stable internet connection and a phone or a laptop, Keynote Speakers, guests, and listeners alike are able to participate from the comfort of their own homes. A potential problem regarding the ease of this method can arise the longer the restrictions surrounding MICE tourism continue to go on: if event organizers and attendees become accustomed to hosting events online, will people ever go back to the way things were? 


Despite the financial convenience and social safety that online meetings and conferences bring, there are certain drawbacks to the virtual system. The biggest among them is arguably the lack of interaction in online settings. This is especially true for exhibitions and incentive-related events. The success of the former greatly depends on face-to-face interactions in which businesses showcase or sell their products to each other. Since the entire point was to examine the products in person and interact with the business owners, it is challenging to successfully host a similar occasion online.

The same can be said for incentive-based events. The purpose of incentive travel is to reward or motivate the individuals of a company because of their record of good performance, or to make them work harder in the future. Incentive travel can include day trips, resort retreats, non-business vacations and the like. Because of its nature, it directly benefits the tourism industry and is of course not feasible online. 

Another significant issue with completely virtual MICE programs is a problem that is increasingly on the rise: Zoom fatigue. Research has shown that constant exposure to video conferences and meetings on online platforms puts significant strain on the brain. Combined with the pressure put on eyes due to close contact with screens, it results in varying degrees of exhaustion, and in some cases, burnout. Fully virtual MICE events add to the existing fatigue induced by the near-fatal combinations of online classes, exams, and work. 

Alongside all of this, there is of course the most obvious problem: internet connection. It goes without saying that not every individual has the required facilities in their home to participate in online events and in many cases, they may not have a comfortable home atmosphere to do so either. In all of the above scenarios, a planned hybrid approach to the occasions has tremendous potential to mitigate at least some of the negative impacts of the fully virtual alternative. 


During the Fall of 2020, Singapore hosted one of its very first hybrid events during the country’s International Energy Week. The event – which drew in around 13000 delegates in the previous year – was capped due to the pandemic at no more than 250 participants. 

How did they pull off such a feat?

The answer lies in broadcasting. The event planners had set up a live stream of the event so that many more delegates could participate virtually. For many, this arrangement was essentially the best of both worlds – those who preferred the on-site arranged registered to book their place beforehand, and those who wished to avoid the stress and expenses of travel did the same, but with the virtual booking instead. Most importantly, an arrangement such as this can make use of the businesses in the tourism industry so that they can finally begin to get back on their feet. 

Hybrid events have not yet gained popularity in Bangladesh, but as the world continues to combat the pandemic, hotels and conferences could very well reopen with this new system. On-site participants should be limited as in the example posed by Singapore. Sanitary practices are already in place inside many institutions in our country (banks and supermarkets to name a few) and should of course also be maintained inside the event hall. If food and beverages are served, then there should be a cap on the number of people permitted to sit per table.

For example, in restaurants and cafes scattered throughout Dhaka the seating arrangements have been altered to accommodate two people to a table at most, with the seats placed at opposite ends to maintain distance. Social distancing practices like these with safety measures in place can allow for a successful event that also doesn’t contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.  

They say that necessity is the mother of invention – time again during the past year while Bangladeshis learned to adapt in a pandemic-ridden world, this phrase has been proven true. Hybrid programs in the MICE industry is simply another example. If planned and implemented successfully, hybrid events have the potential to draw in much bigger numbers of participants compared to on-site alone, since they give people the choice to attend in the manner they prefer. The system also gives some much-needed to support to the tourism industry so that they can slowly begin to get back on their feet in our post-pandemic world.

By Tahia Tabassum

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