What sort of future does the conference industry have?
“I’m devastated,” says Mike Walker, managing director of MGN Events.
The company went from generating millions of pounds in revenue to near zero in just weeks, because of lockdowns.
“Over 10 years of hard work building the company up from nothing, reinvesting each year for growth, taken away cruelly in the space of a couple of weeks, with no clarity on when the industry can resume,” Mr Walker says.
Thousands of others in the events industry will be facing the same uncertainty. The pandemic has completely shattered a huge sector, and many businesses are struggling to survive. According to a 2018 report, business events alone are a $1.5 trillion (£1.2tn) industry globally.
That’s without considering the huge number of consumer events, exhibitions, experiences and weddings.
All of these events rely on people turning up in person, and that is not currently possible with some venues closed or at a reduced capacity, and with travel restrictions in place – not to mention various other safety precautions required at the venue itself.
“Even if you hold an event in a larger venue, if you have delegates flying in and staying in the hotel, and one person tests positive for Covid-19, then you’re going to get a call from the hotel telling you they’re going to have to give the venue a deep clean and shut it down,” says Steve Parrott, co-founder of Alternative Events.
That kind of scenario is why companies are being forced to look at technology as the alternative, with virtual events becoming the norm throughout lockdown.
Most businesses have turned to technology that has become familiar for many people – video conferencing software from Zoom or MS Teams.
However, these technologies were around before the pandemic, and while they offer an alternative, they do not provide the same level of engagement as physical events.
Generally, event organisers don’t stand to make the same amount of revenue in a virtual alternative. However, there are numerous benefits to holding virtual events.
Virtual events are far cheaper to run, and at a time when companies are more conscious about the environment, they offer a sustainable alternative to flying people in from across the world. In addition, they give the organisers the ability to get viewers from across the world, on different timezones, to tune in, and potentially attract better speakers for the event too, as they don’t need to travel.
There is also more scope to measure outcomes.
Despite this, many event organisers can only see the use of these virtual events as a stop gap, or as part of an overall hybrid event in the future. Perhaps this is why the likes of Microsoft and Zoom haven’t moved quickly to provide new features for their platforms.
“Four months into lockdown, why is there nothing new on the market? Perhaps digital [events] aren’t worth investing in because although they will be a part of the mix, they won’t be the main part of the event, because people think we’ll be returning to normal soon,” says Steve Parrott, co-founder of Alternative Events.
SOURCE: BBC News
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