Hybrid Events Are the Future

Event Africa Contributor 29/04/2020 Best Practices

It goes without saying that the world will not return to ‘business as usual’ after this global pandemic comes to an end.


Technology will play a much larger and more cohesive role in the near to long-term future, with some innovations coming to the fore even during this time. One such example is the growing number of virtual meetings taking place in diverse numbers ranging from 2 to 2 000.

TTG has remained at the forefront of this new dynamic that has surfaced during the tumultuous time the events sector is experiencing. In their latest (and very well-organised) TTG Conversations, aptly titled The End of Events as We Know It?, TTG Travel Trade Publishing’s Group Editor, Karen Yue, moderated a panel that covered a range of issues and perspectives of the current crisis, as well as practical solutions for the way forward.

The panellists were Iain Bitran, Executive Director of ISPIM; Cheryl Tan, Head of Events at TTG Events (IT&CM China and Asia; CTW China and Asia); Veemal Gungadin, CEO of Globalsign.in; and Joe Ciliberto, Global Director of Sales and Marketing at EventsAIR.

“As the pandemic reaches its gloomy fingers into meetings and events, silencing activities and forcing some organisers to turn to virtual formats, will our industry come to realise the benefits of remote meetings and events and forever change how business exchanges of the future are executed?” This was the question raised and perhaps partially answered during the webinar that took place on 29 April 2020.

Mass Adoption of Virtual Events

Thanks to the pandemic, virtual events and meetings are now the norm. Memes have been made, and awkward lags have been accepted with a shrug of the shoulders. Part of the reason for this has been the ease of access. There is only one way to get into an event – to register and log in – whereas with physical events there are several ways to register or buy a ticket, several types of tickets normally available and far more options that organisers need to cater for to attract delegates.

TTG Conversations used ISPIM as a case study for going virtual, which unpacked some great concepts for hosting successful virtual events.

This does pose the question of how an event remains a success and captures attendees, though. According to Joe Ciliberto, the biggest issue for event planners who are naturally moving towards more virtual events is engagement. Virtual engagement such as polls, ice breaker activities, and Q&A’s will become more and more important because the need for regular tea breaks has been completely removed thanks to an event being far more globally attended now.

One example Iain Bitran cites is of a virtual conference taking a break to get everyone to participate in a simple, entertaining activity – writing a song together on Google Docs. This was moderated by one person who put a tune to the lyrics and was a great way to foster interaction and camaraderie during an event.

Of course, the adoption of virtual events ultimately means one thing for the future of the industry: hybrid events are where we’re headed. Although we’ve seen a slow rise in this trend over the last two years in Africa, there is no doubt that there will be more of a need to connect those unable to attend physically with a virtual option.

Pricing an Online Conference

Another major challenge is that of sponsorship concerns and how to price virtual events. Virtual events don’t cater for accommodation, a physical venue, tea, coffee and lunches – so the way we price an event needs to be of fair value for the content presented.

According to Bitran, speakers and presenters will also pay their way for a virtual event in order to access other content, and a wide range of thought leaders need to be engaged based on relevance to both the conference and delegates’ current circumstances or collective experience. This, hey says, is key and what people already are and would always pay for.

A recent example was an association congress that usually charges €800 per ticket, charging €300 for their virtual event. They took it even further by basing it on the honour system – that is, whoever could and wanted to pay more, we allowed to do so while those struggling financially could pay €250 or less. The minimal cost just to listen was €100. Sponsors also got something out of the virtual event through an automatic extension of their package to the next live event.

But What About Venues?

One sector that has lost out significantly thanks to COVID-19 has been venues and hotels. But there is a silver lining around this dark cloud, says Cheryl Tan. “Venues with virtual compatibility will survive.” That is to say that venues that have the technology and know-how to facilitate hybrid events or even to host virtual events will make it in this bold, new future we now have before us.

During this time of global lockdown, it is important for venues to continue to innovate, to consider their flexibility and how they can better attract and present new concepts and opportunities for event planners to use their spaces, says Tan.

Veemal Gungadin foresees hybrid events as being the future for at least another year or more – particularly as each country will lift travel and gathering bans at different times in coming months. Confidence in travel will also return slowly, spurring the need for both virtual and physical meeting options.

Venues need to equip themselves for this and surround themselves with technology and data security experts who can help them grow in this direction. Venues can also consider the role of a ‘Digital Event Manager’ and if this is a position they should be including in their event planning support teams. 

“Business will come back for venues and it will become a crunch of events,” he adds, “so now is the time to gear up for efficiency.” Even now venues are booking more and more events for a year from now, and together with all the events that have been postponed for between 6-12 months, they will likely be very busy or even fully booked in the near future.

For more information on TTG Conversations, click here.

To read EventsAIR’s 10 Steps to Event Success, click here.

For more info on Globalsign.in’s latest product GEVME Live, click here.

Written by Kim Crowie