Innovative event concepts: Case study WIT Conference, Singapore

At the recent ICCA Congress in Leipzig, I attended an excellent session about “New ways to approach brand-building in the meetings business“. The session was very inspiring, and I came across the case of the WIT Conference in Singapore, an event targeting the travel industry.

Great stuff!!

Not only have they managed to establish a unique brand, but they also use social media and digital marketing in an outstandingly creative and compelling way. Just take a look at one of the mind-blowing promotional videos for WIT 2011 to get an idea:

WIT is a great example how you can run a conference in a collaborative, participative fashion, be attractive to Generation Y and build a brand that benefits from the web’s inherent strengths.

Now, it’s always more interesting to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. I was lucky enough that Yeoh Siew Hoon, the personality, inventor and driver behind the concept, agreed to do an interview about the philosophy and the development of WIT.

  • Q: Launched in 2005, WIT Singapore is still quite a young conference. Can you explain the concept behind this event and how it has been developing over the last years?

The annual WIT (Web In Travel) Conference started in 2005 as an event to focus thought, debate and personality around the subject of travel distribution, marketing and technology.  We knew the travel industry was changing and that this space would have a Yeoh Siew Hoon WIT Conference Singaporebig influence on how the industry would take shape in the future, and we wanted to play a role in enabling that change and empowering the travel community in Asia Pacific.

So we decided to organise an event that would be different from other travel conferences – where content would be carefully curated and speakers briefed to share ideas and insights only and to stay away from sales pitches.

Ultimately, we wanted to foster collaboration and the open exchange of ideas, insights and opinions – a conference with personality, point of view and purpose.

In 2008, Messe Berlin approached us to be the conference partner of its inaugural trade show, ITB Asia, in Singapore. Apart from running its own conference, WIT also curated content for ITB Asia and runs the Clinics at its exhibition.

Our event has grown from 160 delegates in 2005 to over 500 in 2011. Beyond the numbers, WIT has also grown in scope.

From a two-day annual conference in 2005, the WIT brand now comprises:

  • WIT feed – ongoing news, commentary, opinion pieces
  • WIT Social MediaFacebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vimeo. Its Facebook community has grown from under 1,000 in 2010 to over 6,000 in 2011.
  • WITNext – Inspiring Young Minds, an inspiration and mentoring initiative aimed at young talent and entrepreneurs, a website and series of “live” events in Singapore, Bangkok and Australia
  • World Wide WIT – the first WIT Australia was held in Sydney in June 2011
  • WIT Bootcamp – a one-day event aimed at encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, held just before the annual WIT Conference

  • Q: With almost 2000 Twitter followers and over 6.300 Facebook fans, social media seem to be playing a big role in your marketing. How do you see the importance of social media for your event and how will it develop in the future?

Web In Travel would not be where it is without the web and lately, social media. Media, like conferences, are all about content and community. Social media allows you to form communities around curated content. It allows us to have continuous engagement with our community throughout the year so that by the time they get to the conference, they are ready for the live experience.

This year, we had 30% first-time delegates to WIT and I can honestly say they came through word of mouth, either spread through social media or networks.

I don’t see social media as a separate part of the business and thus something to develop a strategy around. I think it’s more about being a social business versus a business that happens to use social media for profitability. That means thinking and being social in every aspect of your business.

With a conference, it’s about collaborating with your customers on the content. With a media business, it’s about enabling your “fans” to have a say and share their views. It’s about daring to surrender your business to a social force, but with a firm steady hand at the wheel.

  • Q: When it comes to branding, you do a remarkable job at positioning WIT as an “extraordinary” event. What are your future plans regarding the WIT brand expansion?

If WIT is extraordinary, it is because of the extraordinary support of its fans. They like our Personality, Point of View and Purpose, and so we have people who are saying good things about us out there. And therefore the expansion of the brand will be dependent on the opportunities that are created by individuals who love what we do and believe in what we do. Let’s say the expansion will be people-driven rather than brand-driven.

We have champions in the UK, Japan, Australia and Indonesia who want to bring the WIT ethos of “creating cutting edge content and social experiences” to their markets. We will see how that develops.

  • Q: Where do you get all the inspiration to constantly push the boundaries and re-invent your event?

Curiosity, empathy and listening and I suppose, a mad desire to always do better.

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