The hybrid model: a short-term solution or here to stay?

For some people in the events industry, the shift to hybrid conventions and meetings is permanent. They believe that as we grow more comfortable with digital tools and interactions, a majority of participants will opt to join from home. For others in the industry, digital tools are a short-term fix, and in the near future we’ll see a return to mostly live events. Who’s right? Will hybrid and live events compliment each other, or when the threat of Covid subides, will one form dominate?

That was the topic of the panel discussion ‘European Network Cluster - Cooperation & Multiplex’ which was held on 3 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 Eric Abramson, Director of Major Accounts at GL Events Venues. The four speakers represented a variety of perspectives, including two venue management companies, a research institute, and a convention center.

How Covid has obliged organisers to up their game

Marta Gomes, Deputy Executive Director Sales Division at VIPARIS, joined the discussion in person. She says that in addition to creating rigorous new health and safety measures for delegates who might choose to attend in person, organisers will need to offer a greatly enhanced experience as an incentive to overcome hesitation. Also, organisers need to ensure a great experience for virtual participants, which obviously requires new skills and tools and, ideally, partnerships with video or television professionals. And in the midst of these new obligations, organisers still need to think about sustainability and leaving a positive social impact on destinations – a lot to factor in when planning a conference or meeting.

Live events: still the way to go?

Despite the added value of hybrid events and the useful, creative tools that have been developed to enable them, many from inside the industry still believe in the staying power of live events. Rémy Cregut, CEO of the Montreux Music & Convention Centre, admits that digital tools are vital in allowing the industry to get through a very rough patch, but he doesn't think they will necessarily become a fixture. ‘I don’t believe virtual events will be part of the future as much as some people are predicting’, he said. This was a sentiment echoed by Ms Gomes, who says that while hybrid meetings do expand participation to those formerly limited by travel rules or tight budgets, she believes the emphasis will still be on live events because people need to meet in person. ‘It’s important for us, as venues, to defend face-to-face, to advocate for the irreplaceable quality that face-to-face events bring in terms of human interaction, networking, and creating a sense of belonging’, she said.

What associations need to succeed

Clara Fernández López, External Relations Manager at the Union of International Associations, also joined virtually. She says that because we cannot influence external factors, we must focus on what is within our power, such as developing new skills and learning to use new platforms. This is a challenge, she concedes, especially as there has been a deluge of offers from companies offering digital solutions, yet most associations don’t have the resources to investigate the myriad possibilities. What helps to alleviate the confusion, she says, is when convention bureaus and their partners support associations and give them guidance. She referred to the case of a convention slated for Seoul that, due to Covid, was going to be indefinitely postponed. However, the Seoul convention bureau stepped in and provided a solution with digital options. This way, the convention took place and both parties benefitted.

Cooperation is the way forward

Roxane Nominé, Site Manager at Miharu, joined the discussion in person. She talked about the situation in Toulouse, where the venues her company manages are located. She says the city has been hit extra hard by Covid. Not only is Toulouse a centre of learning and research that have been disrupted, but it’s the home of Airbus, which is suffering due to the huge drop in air travel. In short, she and her company have seen first-hand the difficulties caused by Covid, and she says that in order for the events industry to survive, everyone will have to work more closely with the whole business chain – venues, caterers, hotels, and other service providers alike.

No matter what the future looks like, what is certain, the panelists agree, is that the industry needs to stick together and support each other. ‘Partnerships are going to be crucial for success’ Ms Gomes said, emphasising venues’ role in facilitating communication between all players in the sector. ‘All the stakeholders need to sit at the same table to discuss the challenges’ said Mr Abramson.

Key points

  • The Covid pandemic has obliged the events industry to switch to hybrid events, and it has also forced organisers to improve and expand the quality of services for both virtual and physical meetings.
  • Although digital tools are expanding the reach of events and allowing for more global participation, many in the industry feel that in the future, live events will be as important as before.
  • In order for the convention and meetings industry to get through this trying period, the sub-sectors must all support each other and strive for better communication.