Back to Live in China

Six questions to Dominik Soemantri, General Manager VOK DAMS Shanghai

The demand for live events is on the rise: What will the comeback of face-to-face experiences look like? Our colleagues from VOK DAMS China already dealt with this question some time ago. Our General Manager VOK DAMS China, Dominik Soemantri, gives us insights into the situation on the Chinese market and talks about the developments he experiences in the event industry.

How did you experience the pandemic personally? Did it lead to any lifestyle changes?

[Dominik Soemantri]: Luckily the lockdown in Shanghai was not that long, around two months. I was cooking more often and healthier, and exercising at home from time to time, which I will keep doing. If this phase brought anything positive, I think it is that people were being content with simpler activities. I was meeting friends in a park instead of a restaurant, was cycling more instead of using public transport, jogging along the river instead of on a treadmill, and board games with friends replaced the visit to the bar. Overall, I have grown closer to friends and family as I spent more ‘quality’ time with them.

What tips can you give fellow event organizers for planning live events post COVID?

[Dominik Soemantri]: Once events were allowed to take place in China and the market got back on track, each event had to undertake certain pandemic control policies depending on the scale and nature of the event, etc. There are standard pandemic control measures which we must follow such as COVID-tests, masks, social distancing, body temperature checks, etc. All these measures are summarized in an event pandemic control document and become part of the mandatory submission for the event permit application in China.

What are currently the most popular event formats that your customers are asking about?

[Dominik Soemantri]: Since the COVID-19 outbreak was kept under control, the market demanded less for digital solutions than in other countries. Four months after the beginning of the pandemic live events were already allowed again, though with certain safety measures as described above. As a back-up solution, clients still ask for hybrid solutions, where a live event quickly be translated into an online experience, but pure digital events are a rare format in China actually.

Sectors that have been booming in China post COVID are luxury goods, F&B and domestic tourism, causing corporate brands to react. With international travel becoming nearly impossible, an increasing number Chinese people start to explore their motherland. During the Labor day holiday in May 2021, over 230 million people travelled domestically within China.

While event formats remain the same, we see a diversification of event locations, with brands focusing on being seen where their audiences are. Pop up stores and semi-permanent pop-ups remain in-trend formats, but the choice of location has changed; instead of eyeing only the 1st tier cities, now smaller cities or even travel destinations like Sanya (a top beach destination in China) are considered to build a lifestyle connection with their clients on the road.

What are currently the most frequently requested digital tools within events and what are they used for?

[Dominik Soemantri]: This would really depend on the nature and purpose of the event. As digital technologies are quite mature in China, most events combine a multitude of tools to maximize the impact. Live streaming is extremely popular now when orders can be placed directly during the event through live streaming platforms. In this context, apps focusing on user generated content such as Little Red Book or Douyin (the China equivalent of Tik Tok) are popular channels where KOLs and bloggers are engaged for both brand communication and sales driven activities.

For events with international participants (such as forums and conferences), most of our clients tend to use Zoom. Since Zoom has its limitations, we are lucky that VOK DAMS already had its own platform in the making during the pandemic, which was launched last year and has been used for a variety of cross-border events already.

What developments have been kick-started or intensified due to the pandemic and are now part of the industry?

[Dominik Soemantri]: What was nice to see after the pandemic was the hunger from clients and audiences in the China market for tangible experiences. Despite an increasing demand for digital solutions, we realized that there is no real substitute for live-events. I think hybrid and live experiences will go hand in hand in the future, but very few brands or corporations will rely solely on digital solutions.

Another aspect we experienced was the absolute need to be agile in this industry. You cannot rely on one event solution only but need to have a back-up plan and the ability to react to ever changing situations in an instant and cost-efficient way.

What major topics do you see that will have an impact on events in the medium to long term?

[Dominik Soemantri]: Like it or not, during COVID-19 the air quality has improved, the water is getting cleaner and the carbon emissions are decreasing everywhere. The world and the people have a common goal to reach carbon neutrality. People are recognizing it more clearly now, and hopefully it will not be forgotten too soon.

Luckily our clients are also realizing the importance of this. One of our ongoing projects with a luxury automotive brand focuses on delivering a health / fitness related message with a strong commitment in making the event itself sustainable. For the 1st time sustainable materials are not only considered but required and all event materials are required to be reused instead of being disposed. This as part of a strategy to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 as a car maker. We are grateful to be part of this project and hopefully this is the first of many of this kind to come.

More and more companies are integrating sustainability as a key aspect into their planning. In the future we see that sustainability will become an integral philosophy of lifestyle and a principle of any business, and we are glad to be able to contribute to this change.


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