Hybrid keeps venues ahead of Covid

Rod Kamleshwaran says conference and event organisers cannot stay still any longer if they want to remain competitive as demand for virtual meetings technology grows

BUSINESSES are trying to figure out how they can return from the immense damage inflicted by Covid-19.

Hologram-ready studio at Marina Bay Sands Singapore

In an environment where a vaccine is yet to be found, there is extreme uncertainty, making planning very difficult. The shadow of Covid-19 will remain even after the vaccine with consumer behaviour continuing to change.

Responses will vary among meetings, incentives, conference and exhibition organisers. Operations will resume with new protocols. Responses will range from building retrofit works and technology upgrades to staff re-skilling and redesign of operations for agility and resilience. There will be accelerated digital adoption.

Signals of increased demand will likely come suddenly, and in clusters. This will require aggressive ramp up. MICE venues have a history of slow delivery on technology, but venues that act with urgency on digital initiatives are likely to gain competitive advantage.

Virtual event technology is only one aspect of the digital playbook
Technology will be central to every interaction – from marketing and selling to planning and hosting the event.

It will facilitate regulatory compliance and enhance customer experience. Some solutions will even offer revenue growth opportunities. Some of the digital solutions expected from venues include:

  • Remote selling and virtual-venue tours – giving planners access to a virtual version of function rooms with seating configurations, lighting and more;
  • Contactless registration and tracing – via mobiles and kiosks;
  • Live analytics via beacons and mobiles – venue navigation, heatmaps and crowd management tools to influence visitor journey and social distancing;
  • Virtual event solutions – software, broadcast studios and tech crews for pre-recorded events and live streaming.

Though a digital shift is now inevitable, physical interaction remains powerful, so in-person events have remained endemic.

Virtual events will not overtake in-person events
Virtual event technology is not new, but it is peaking in a Covid world. Once Covid passes, a modest share of organisers will opt for “virtual-only” mode, but the vast majority of events will return as in-person or hybrid events where virtual complements physical.

A major delay in vaccine, however, could swing more events to virtual-only mode.

Economics and sustainability will also influence the demand for hybrid. Venues that offer all three options – in-person events, hybrid, and virtual event – will likely have an edge over rivals.

More… Surge in live-stream conferences

Once venues invest in technology for hybrid events, they will have the tech infrastructure available for those who want virtual-only meetings.

Almost all of us have participated in a virtual event when joining an online webinar or video conference. But these are short, single sessions.

As we progress to full or multi-day conferences and exhibitions, the level of complexity rises. These are built around a live, complex agenda with keynotes, breakouts, displays, and more. They include real-time content, on-demand content, networking, 3D virtual booths, and more. Virtual event software offering this experience for conventions is limited, and even more limited for exhibitions.

Engaging virtually is not easy
People have a limited attention span and varying levels of interest. They expect to see more than a speaker’s face and a PowerPoint. They expect a quality simulation of the live event, akin to a TV show production. Virtual event software on its own is often not enough.

Content is key, but delivery is also important.

Delivering a professional quality virtual webcasting or live-stream event requires a studio set up with broadcast technology. It needs professional staging and a production crew.

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The initial cost of virtual events can be high with issues monetising it. But as virtual events mature the cost of access and pervasiveness will improve.

The virtual experience may be enhanced with immersive virtual reality, augmented reality, holographic teleconferencing, gamification, and more.

Venues making headway
Few venues today offer anything close to a full suite of services for virtual or hybrid events.

Osflofjord Convention Centre in Norway is one of the early adopters in this space offering hybrid event options well before Covid-19. It boasts a 360-degree broadcast TV studio, 120m LED screen, advanced AV, lighting and in-house production crew. It can support up to 3,000 live streams and 10,000 viewers.

Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Singapore has launched a hybrid event broadcast studio with live-streaming capabilities including 3-D stage and holograms. This is seen as a first for the MICE industry.

To keep up during Covid-19, companies have moved fast, and speed will continue to be of the essence.

Along with our optimism for a vaccine we have to be cognisant of the downside risk that effective vaccination may not be achieved until late 2021. Can we really afford to wait?

Urgent action is not without blind spots and unknowns, but the price of waiting may be far greater.

Rod Kamleshwaran is a partner at GainingEdge, a global consultancy to the convention and exhibition industry

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