Events: get ready for the two-way mirror

Piers Brown, CEO International Hospitality Media, reveals how he sees the catalyst of the pandemic changing the way we consume information and do business in the on and offline world.

The death of the mega event?

Remember those times when thousands of high-powered hospitality and real estate executives would come together to spend three-to-five days or more doing business in some sunny shore or wintry location with the bells and whistles attached? I do wonder whether these times will return, but are they an over exuberance that the business world can do without? Having attended many pre-crisis with glee, the conference and events business is at a pivotal point.

Thousands of conferences have been cancelled, postponed or moved online because of the pandemic. The longer the pandemic has gone on, the less likely the mega event in its existing form will return – budgeted monies available will be less and proportioned differently. We know physical meetings can be replicated virtually to some degree, and this has many benefits, including making access easier for those with limited budgets, family commitments or disabilities.

With on and offline media convergence continuing, gone are the days of large events being the banker that real estate and hospitality professionals will hang their hat on. This, coupled with ticket and accommodation costs, entertainment and travel (ssshhh – private jet anyone?) and time away from the business, what’s next is going to make the bean-counters jump for joy.

But wait a moment – ask the CEO or C-level executive about the benefits of large events and you receive a list: “I can’t afford not to be there. This event delivers ROI for me, look at the numbers”. Well, those numbers are going to be heavily scrutinised in the future.

The two-way mirror

How some organisers have dealt with the fall-out, cancellation and refund requests hasn’t helped, but when events do potentially come back the client is going to be looking for more from organisers who truly understand their objectives. Those multimedia businesses driven by data and actively tracking and commenting on their respective hospitality and real estate sectors 24/7 have the market intelligence and a greater chance of success than the event organiser who stops and starts with a plethora of one-dimensional, unrelated activities.

Businesses are quick to point out that moving meetings online can save attendees time and reduce their contribution to carbon emissions. But although video-conferencing technologies are becoming more familiar, critics say that they don’t allow the chance encounters and networking that take place at face-to-face events, and can be disjointed, too long and frustrating at times if the WiFI signal is not secure. I didn’t realise how exhausting it is to sit at your laptop for an online conference across two full days or more until I actually did it – count me out. I’ll be exploring better ways to engage in a blog post later in the series.

All the signs are that younger, more junior team members are likely to travel more frequently in many cases, with senior executives being a lot more selective and choosing to WFH and engage remotely more often. This will take some businesses more getting used to than others, but companies have had almost 12 months to explore alternative business-making opportunities. Some already have a good idea what generates ROI without the requirement to meet at physical events. IHM has gleaned valuable knowledge too, having achieved a record year of digital traffic to our websites, hosted in-person physical events during the crisis, and over 40 webinars attracting 6,500 registered participants across four series so far.

Being an online publisher and offline host of in-person events, IHM is placing additional resource on assisting companies by truly understanding their objectives and advising on the choice as to how they are represented: face-to-face, hybrid versions, 100 per cent virtual or all. We will continue innovating by listening and offering clients more of what their potential customers want, and more importantly we will look to provide creative solutions as an extension to our client’s marketing department.

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