More than two years on from the last time the gaming industry got together for a trade show in Asia, Inside Asian Gaming spoke with suppliers to gauge when they predict in-person events will return and what they expect from them when they do.
It is now 27 months since the last gaming industry trade show was hosted in Asia and almost three years since G2E Asia was held in Macau. Since then there have been countless false starts by established organizers and rapid departures from those looking to get in on the Asian trade show scene.
But as the global COVID-19 pandemic shows signs of easing and many nations start relaxing long-held border restrictions, plans are already underway to bring back some of the region’s most established events, such as the Australasian Gaming Expo scheduled to return to Sydney in August.
The road forward is less clear in Macau, which continues to follow Beijing’s lead with its zero-COVID policy. At this stage G2E Asia is booked into The Venetian Macao from 30 August to 1 September 2022, but it remains to be seen whether those dates are realistic. Industry rumors suggest an alternative location is already being considered, possibly Singapore.
Yet there is no doubt industry suppliers are keen to resume the face-to-face interactions with customers that COVID-19 has rendered largely impossible for the past few years.
“We believe trade shows hold the same level of importance, and this is especially so in Asia, where there have been heavy restrictions on travel in the region,” said Aristocrat’s Director, Product Marketing and Strategy for ANZ and APAC, John Stevanja.
“Meeting our customers face-to-face at events and being able to interact physically with our products remains a key part of the sales and relationship building process. At an event, our customers can more easily see the depth of our game portfolio and properly appreciate each product by experiencing how the sound, art and mechanics come to life in an engaging experience for players like no other.”
“Trade shows are more important than ever,” adds Rashid Suliman, Vice President, Global Gaming Asia-Pacific for TransAct Technologies.
“While teleconferencing and virtual events have kept the needle moving, they don’t provide the same personal connection and experience as the in-person events. Having the opportunity to speak directly with our customers, safely distanced of course, is unmatched.”
The big question for suppliers and buyers alike is when. Timing is crucial, it seems, and keeping everyone happy is easier said than done – as Europe’s Clarion Gaming is finding out ahead of the return of ICE London.
Originally scheduled in its traditional February timeslot, the emergence of the Omicron variant saw Clarion forced to postpone the 2022 event by more than two months until 12 to 14 April. But not all exhibitors are ready to come back just yet, with Novomatic, TCSJohnHuxley, Zitro, Merkur Gaming and Abbiati among a number to have withdrawn.
“A multitude of adverse aspects – including the pandemic, logistical challenges and, last but not least, the unfavorable and unavoidable alternative date – have culminated in a situation in which participating in the show is no longer viable,” Novomatic said upon its withdrawal last month.
Asked to propose an appropriate time for trade shows to return to Asia, IGT’s Sales Director, Asia, Michael Cheers, suggested late Q3 and into Q4 2022 as his ideal scenario.
Stevanja agrees that it will likely still be some time before the industry is ready.
“As we’ve all learnt during this pandemic, it is hard to predict a timeline for many areas of business, and nowhere is that more uncertain than for trade shows and events,” he said.
“One key determinant of the timeline is the quarantine restrictions on international travellers – while they remain in place, it is difficult to see any scale events being successful in the region. We look forward to when the time comes to get back together safely as an industry and reconnect at a trade show event that we used to all know and love.”
There are also lingering concerns over what trade shows of the future might look like. While few have been willing to say so publicly in the past, IAG is well aware that many suppliers were concerned in the years leading up to COVID-19 by both the sheer number of events on the annual calendar and the rising cost of attending each and every one.
For Cheers, addressing these issues will be more important than ever once trade shows do return.
We would like to see commercially responsible pricing policies from exhibition organizers that recognize suppliers are coming off two years of record low revenues,” Cheers tells IAG. He also proposes “virtual stand tour options for those customers that still cannot attend for whatever reason.”
Adds Stevanja, “We would obviously like to see well thought-through and visible precautions to ensure events follow COVID safe protocols – any event organizer today is all over this.
“In our region, we have always preferred to focus on individual customers by scheduling meetings at trade shows in advance. A few customers have been hesitant to do this, but in this new environment, pre-scheduled meetings will result in both a more productive meeting, and a more COVID safe outcome too. A win-win for both parties.
“As the industry recovers – and trade shows are a part of this – we hope they will not lose the vitality and energy they bring while ensuring that everyone’s safety is respected.”