Once a staple of any major conference, the gala dinner is now being skipped by delegates who prefer to explore the host city.

“A 3,000-delegate conference used to have a 3,000-delegate dinner,” says Oscar Cerezales, chief operating officer, Asia Pacific, MCI Group.

“Now people want to go out and see the conference destination so you might end up with an optional dinner for 500 people.

World's largest industrial tech event comes to Asia
World's largest industrial tech event comes to Asia
Brands in action: Diageo China hosts Whisky Summit
Brands in action: Diageo China hosts Whisky Summit
Five golden rules to boost brain power
Five golden rules to boost brain power

“People are getting bored with the traditional formats. It’s about having the right atmosphere around you, so a lot of planners are cancelling social events and giving attendees space to discover.”

Other planners are finding a way to build this desire into the official programme.

“Delegates want to explore the ordinary lives of the people in the city they are visiting,” says Kitty Wong, president of Taipei-based PCO K&A International.

“In Taiwan we eat quite early, so gala dinners usually start at 6:30-7pm and are done by 8:30-9pm. Then we take delegates out into the city—to the night markets or for a night run for example.”

According to Marine Debatte, head of events solutions, Asia Pacific & Japan, BI Worldwide, having a night off can also be a welcome change. “In many of our corporate events, people have an agenda that is so packed, there is almost no time for business,” she says.

“Having a free evening is so appreciated these days that we encourage it as much as we can.” But if you must include an awards ceremony, try to keep it fun for everyone.

“There is a fine line between making sure the winners are recognised and boring the others,” warns Debatte. “We are working more and more on what’s happening around the dinner such as photo booths, entertainment or activities.”

Main image: Gala dinner at Adelaide Convention Centre