Virtual Events & The Meetings Ecosystem

When did you ever imagine that the word ‘Zoom’ gets added into your most-used daily vocabulary? The world has surely changed, where ‘Zooming’ co-habitats your daily corporate chore. What has this brought to the MICE table? 

In the real world, where there have been cancellations across every event genre; from sporting events, mega trade fairs, festivals, and even big fat Indian weddings does taking on and embracing the new normal hybrid-event gather any moss?

The U.S. and India-based ‘Grandview Research’ in its study states “The global virtual events market size was valued at USD 77.98 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027. The growing popularity of Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS) amongst corporates, education institutes, and various other organizations across industries is expected to drive the market during the forecast period. Virtual events cover a wide range of activities, from video and audio conferencing to live streaming and broadcasting. The most common type of digitally simulated events includes job fairs, trade shows, company conferences, sales-meetings, and summits. UCaaS combines communications into a single platform for these events to allow collaboration and increase productivity.” The study also states, “The market is witnessing higher demand as most of the companies have adopted the Work-From-Home (WFH) policy owing to the lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 affected countries to avoid the community spread of the disease. The stay-at-home measures have resulted in increased opportunities for industry participants. Corporates are extensively using video conferencing and other communication platforms for business and client meetings. For instance, Microsoft proclaimed that Microsoft Team surpassed 44.00 million daily active users in March 2020 as organizations are increasingly using the digital platform to continue their business processes during the coronavirus pandemic”.

Covid-19 has disrupted global event calendars across genres. The pandemic has impacted events that have been part of marketing routines, wherein you now grapple with cancellations and repeated postponements. The events which had been meeting avenues for marketing companies, re-sellers, and consumers, now due to social-distancing norms have been pushed under a click of a plethora of digital buttons. The impact of being reduced to being glued-up in front of your monitors has brought in technology, that attempts to morph real-life events and calls itself ‘Virtual Events!’ While over the years, such technology was limited to conference calls, medical advice, and meetings, but now has disrupted itself into a platform to house family get-togethers, events, showcases, and exhibitions! Now even have hybrid platforms for good measure.

What makes virtual events tick? It is cost-effective, reaches out to a wider audience, drives better content management, delegates can access it everywhere, even in the comfort of your favorite traffic jam and leaves a much favorable carbon footprint! But, end of the day, it still cannot be classified as an Event or MICE business module!

Virtual events are here to stay, irrespective of when the world of meeting physically re-opens! In the world of technology and media, virtual-events makes a grand disruptive entry. It has fawned a completely new genre to the world of the media platforms, which has helped industries, organizations, and consumers to be in contact during the pandemic-times. One of my biggest grouses against virtual platforms is one’s inability to gain the focused attention span of your client, while he meanders through about half a dozen other screens he has opened up while you are doing your presentation!

 As the world gets back into doing business in the real world, will real-time physical events give-up on the virtual avatars? I think it is a fantastic new addition to the world of meetings, though it cannot be considered as being part of the Meeting eco-system! It shall remain as a technology platform, albeit a very good one. With webinar fatigue setting in, it is more challenging to evolve a productive event mechanism, that adds value to all stakeholders.

MICE evolves around an eco-system, which involves booking of venues, hotel rooms, transportation, event partners, etc which leads to creating event content, bring branding opportunities and add significant business value to the art of shaking hands. The lure of establishing a personal touch over meeting physically can never replace the comfort of a click of a button. As much as technology hopes to recreate a physical experience, even with an input of Artificial intelligence, it would never the same as contributing to a success of a transaction, while one meets physically, though meeting virtually has brought the world closer. It has flattened the event world where in time, geography and accessibility are no more barriers.

The meeting eco-system brings with it an investment, that has evolved to create and justify business opportunities in terms of whether it is the art of the deal or a suitable branding opportunity. Similarly, nothing can beat the experience of seeing your brand plastered on 5000 square feet hoarding at your favorite traffic jam, compared to it being reduced to a few hundred pixels on your computer screen!

The Meeting industry, at least in India has opened up with limited seats amid enforced social distancing norms. As airlines and inter-state transportation open up slowly, the world of events will also find its footing. The impact of the Covid-19 scenario has impacted the industry like never before, probably only less than that of the Amusement Park industry. Livelihoods have been impacted, with over 100,000 event companies in India, already having disappeared or in a state of disarray. Some have ventured into providing virtual solutions to events, while some have opted to move out. Like all disruptions, where technology companies stand supreme over brick and mortar companies creating digital platforms, the meeting industry is not far behind. The fact that the return of the economy to even 2019 levels seems unlikely anytime soon, it is a good enough factor to explore technology-based event modules with options oscillating from total virtual to physical events to a hybrid mix of virtual and physical.

Advocacy of specialization has always benefited the events space and now in an era, where there is a convergence of technology and event content is now accepted as a new disruptive medium. A regular event management or a MICE company cannot compete with a technology outfit, who are better attuned to the vagaries of consistent technology upgrades. Unless an event management company has the technology bandwidth to keep-up with the tech-upgrades, it will be unable to compete in this hybrid space. Event management companies are better off bring people and brands together in a physical world, albeit within the permissible social-distancing norms, rather than making forays into the world of pressing buttons. 2021 shall see more hybrid events with a mix of virtual and face-to-face events, before the complete recovery of the system. Just one more reason to bring in and work with professionals, who can bring this dynamic technology to the table, where parameters change more often than the state of the roads here in Bangalore!

The impact of technology taking overactive people-to-people event space is a dilemma that will continue to haunt the industry and livelihoods till the noble vaccine makes its appearance. Till then, the world of meeting virtually has given itself a shot in the arm, and you can thank the covid-19 stars for it!