Are Virtual Events the future of conferences over the next 2 years?

Over the last months, we have witnessed some extraordinary work in the sectors we recruit. Businesses have had to adapt to the brave new Covid-19 world. Particularly conferencing and events which rely on large groups of people meeting.

Without wanting to state the obvious, lockdown meant that many events looked likely to be cancelled as people were no longer allowed to travel nationally or internationally.

What has the response been?

The industry is full of creative and innovative people. As a result, we have seen many events move to virtual platforms. Be it theatre, business conferences, festivals, or summits, the industry reorganised swiftly. There have been some benefits to this; our carbon footprints are lower and people who would not ordinarily be able to attend some events were able to join in from the comfort of their homes.

One particularly successful example of a virtual event was the CIPD’s virtual festival of work. This was hosted online from June 10th to 12th. As well as the virtual conference area which hosted a wealth of key speakers, CIPD provided a virtual ‘festival floor’. This allowed ticketholders to network and access virtual ‘stalls’ which would ordinarily be at the face to face event.

Is there a problem with Virtual Events?

In short, no. Virtual events in themselves work very well. However, it can be argued that virtual will never be able to replace face to face events. Humans are social creatures and we thrive on face-to-face social interaction. At a face to face event, we can wonder up to event organisers and assistants to ask where we might find what we are looking for. Moreover, many businesses rely on the ‘in the flesh’ conferences to showcase their brands which allows participants to get a feel for their brands. Perhaps, most importantly, conferencing and events have always been an industry that exists to grow other areas of the economy. It supports Finance, Manufacturing, Retail, Aviation, Trade, and most areas that you can think of. Furthermore, Hospitality businesses and staff who would usually handle catering or run accommodation for visitors have been deeply affected as well as those businesses that do not yet have the resources to get their offerings completely online.

Here at Amdas we’ve been watching the government announcements closely. It was welcome news that the hospitality sector and others could begin to celebrate Lockdown Independence Day on July 4th (as well as American Independence Day). But we were deeply surprised to hear that conference and events centers would remain closed.

While there has been lots of innovative work to get events online, the industry has rightly pointed out that, while the UK remains closed, international competitors will swoop in. Since the UK Events industry contributes around £70 billion to the economy, failure to consult on how to #GetBritainMeeting again might not be a good move.

It is 100% true that Covid-19 is terrible, and we absolutely must stay vigilant and protect lives and livelihoods. We were pleased to see that the recent petition ‘Government to offer economic assistance to the events industry during COVID-19’ reached 153,568 signatures. This meant that it was debated in Parliament on the 25th of June 2020. Hopefully, this will result in a better understanding of and support for the conference and events industry too.
But we must also ensure that we have a future coming out of this and protect the jobs of people within the industry by safely getting it up and running again. This is why we have shown our full support by signing the petition ‘Allow organised meetings and events, with safety levels in line with pubs and restaurants’
You can watch Martin Fullard’s explanatory video here

We think he has made a number of sound points. When we asked Martin why he thinks the government doesn’t realise what the industry does he explained the following:

“It all boils down to the fact the industry doesn’t have a SIC code, which means the Treasury can’t accurately measure our economic value.

[At present] the value of the industry is worked out via painstaking survey data and research conducted by the Business Visits & Events Partnership and VisitBritain. The figures are accepted by the DCMS, but it is the Treasury that matters, and they only act on government data.” – Martin Fullard, editor at Conference News, 01/07/2020

As Martin points out, the industry exists to grow other industries. In a world where we will soon be competing on the world stage as a sovereign nation independent of the EU, it is vital that our industries are able to compete.

Final thoughts

It has been a great privilege for Amdas to have seen the amazing work going on. We hope that face to face events are allowed to resume as safely and as soon as possible. However, we also hope that virtual events will continue to run. It would be great to see a mixture of the two-running side by side and we find it likely that this will be the case.