Hybrid Events Become the New Normal
No less an eminence than Bill Gates says the coronavirus will fundamentally alter the way people travel for and conduct business after the pandemic. His prediction, made at the 2020 New York Times Dealbook conference, is that “over 50 percent of business travel will go away,” The general public agrees. According to the above Fast Company survey, 40 percent of respondents said they want to travel less, or never again (!) for business post-pandemic, while overall 51 percent said they would likely travel for business only “a few times a year”.
Certainly, one-on-one meetings will take a huge hit, as people discover that video chats provide similar benefits for significantly less time, money and environmental impact. The bigger question is what will happen to the meetings and convention sector?
The concept of hybrid meetings, which allow for in-person and online sessions concurrently, will be the wave of the immediate future, serving as a bridge back to “normal times.” But even when that proverbial new normal comes to be, hybrid meetings will likely continue – especially as virtual event platforms that enable event organizers to replicate in-person events online are honed.
During 2020, we discovered the many virtues of virtual events, which don’t require the travel time and expenses and are much cheaper to produce. Plus, it’s easier (and less costly) to book big-name speakers, as time required for an engagement is minimal. On the other hand, after more than a year of staring at our screens, virtual meeting fatigue has set in. Other downsides include unreliable Wifi connections, time zone scheduling issues, and inability to really replicate the fun parts of conventions, like networking happy hours.
So, people will convene again. But, as the American Express 2021 Global Meetings and Events Forecast notes, “It should not be a question of ‘if’ a meeting is going to happen, it’s how.” The ‘how’ is that meeting hybrid, combining elements of IRL and virtual. To meet this demand, convention centers around the world are adding hybrid-meetings studios and updating event space with necessary technologies to stream meetings to attendees all over the world.
To reflect that hybrid-event technology must be available to meeting planners, Hilton developed its EventReady Hybrid Solutions, which started rolling out in January 2021.
Elsewhere in hospitality, technology connections are creating cross-location multi-pod meetings. Hyatt, for example, is looking at the possibilities of hosting big meetings across multiple locations. According to Steve Enselein, senior vice president of events, Hyatt is already working on two events for large companies, one that wants to book 45 locations and another eyeing a 120-location meeting. IACC, a trade organization for international convention centers, recently introduced MultiPOD Meetings to connect small groups of attendees across several venues.