How digitalisation will radically transform events

Everyone in the events sector is now aware of the role that digital technology will play in the future. Not everyone, however, is aware of the myriad possibilities digital technology offers to the sector, and many have not considered what steps should be taken to make the most of digitalisation.

The high-tech future of the events industry was the topic of the roundtable ‘The Disruption Factor: Digitalization and Innovation Transformations’ which was held on 2 November at the European Convention Center Luxembourg as part of the 59th ICCA Congress 2020, for which Luxembourg served as regional co-host. The discussion was moderated by Brice Lecoustey, a partner at EY Luxembourg who specialises in digital and innovation solutions. The three participants brought insight from the fields of innovation development, cybersecurity, and tourism and business events.

A future teeming with possibilities

Sasha Baillie, CEO of Luxinnovation, offered a glimpse of what future events might look like. First, more events will include virtual meeting rooms as well as digital twins of conference rooms that will greatly increase the number of participants. We could also witness virtual reality being used for immersive learning and the advent of holoportation, giving people the impression they’re next to each other even if they’re continents away. Also, AI-driven interpretation could allow participants speaking different languages to communicate directly and in real time.

‘Digital drivers’ for events and uniting them under one solution

These striking technologies will certainly be part of a larger set of digital capabilities that will usher the events sector into the next era. To offer a more comprehensive picture, Ms Baillie discussed a study from the Luxembourg Convention Bureau (LCB) which identified eight ‘digital drivers for events’. These include targeted digital marketing, mobility solutions, apps to optimise interactions between actors, robust infrastructure, more effective use of data, and more.

The result will be a more personal, customer-centric experience, embodied in what the LCB has called the ‘One Business Event’, an integrated digital solution that would link event participants, organisers, and service providers. It would also offer a plethora of features such as contactless payment, travel booking, professional matchmaking, co-working space booking, cultural offerings, and site inspections – as well as features related to Covid such as contact tracing and safety monitoring. A digital solution like this would also generate plenty of data which would also have significant value.

Privacy and security are paramount

Pascal Steichen, CEO of the cybersecurity agency Security Made in Lëtzebuerg, says that in addition to infrastructure, privacy is one of the most important considerations when safeguarding data, and it’s of particular concern to the events industry because most events are not open to the public. Also, sensitive topics are often discussed, especially in breakout sessions. While the opportunity to collect and use data offers countless benefits, it can also be used for criminal or unethical purposes. ‘Data is the new oil’, he says. ‘What we have to avoid is that it becomes the new uranium.’

Cooperation across borders

Eric Bakermans, marketing director at the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, virtually participated in the roundtable. He says the Dutch strategy has been to view and develop digitalisation not as the ends but as the means, for example, using data to tackle social issues, increase digital inclusion for youth and the elderly, and support better governance. In regards to the events industry, he and his organisation have found value in joining forces with similar agencies in other countries. One notable collaboration is with the German Convention Bureau (GCB), which led a cutting-edge test programme in borderless communication called  BOCOM, for which a hub has been set up in Amsterdam. ‘Digitalization happens at a very rapid pace, and it can only bring us together’, Mr Bakermans said.

How to get there?

It’s all good and well to stand in awe at what the future holds, but how do we actually get there? Ms Baillie says advancement needs to be part of a long-term, consistent, and coherent strategy which has, incidentally, already been in place in Luxembourg for years. Mr Bakermans emphasized the need for a totally new skill set in order to excel in the age of digital events. In regards to an upcoming event, for example, he says they’re going to treat it as a TV programme. ‘You cannot simply set up a camera at an event to make it engaging. ‘

A vastly more personal and interactive experience at an event

The three panelists agree that digitalisation has given birth to unexpected benefits. These include a reduction in air travel, which is better for the environment. Video conferencing allows for more focused and more personalised encounters. It also helps associations and event organisers reassess the value of in-person meetings and recognise that some discussions can be effectively conducted virtually. Also, when events move toward the digital, interesting speakers who might not normally be able to participate can join, which is great for audience members. However, the panelists warn that keeping data secure and private is still a key concern, one that will require great care.

Key points

  • In the future, events could include virtual reality, holoportation, and real-time interpretation as well as less striking but equally empowering ‘digital drivers’ such as mobility solutions, apps to optimise interactions between actors, and more robust infrastructure.
  • As the collection and use of data become more central to future events, so too will digital security and data privacy become central to the organiser’s responsibilities. 
  • Increased digitalisation offers many benefits apart from facilitating communication across distances. It allows for events to be more tailored, personal, and memorable.