Industry experts remain confident that live events will remain first choice, despite a rise in virtual and hybrid events in 2020.
The impact of technological developments on the MICE industry was the theme of a discussion between panellists on a recent webinar hosted by WTM Africa.
Founder of Tourism SME Network SEEZA, Septi Bukula, moderated the webinar and invited panellists to share their opinions on virtual events.
Marketing, Sales and Events Director of the Durban International Convention Centre, Scott Langley, felt that the introduction of conferencing technology throughout 2020 had been a positive thing. “It has made people realise what’s possible. Live-streaming technology wasn’t invented in 2020. People have been live streaming events for years.”
He said because people had been forced to use virtual meeting technologies, it had removed the fear and reluctance of it that he had previously seen in the industry.
Echoing Langley’s thoughts, MD of MICE Knowledge, Dr Rob Davidson, said while people had gained more understanding of the technology, they had also realised its limits. “I think for our industry that’s a good thing.
“There are limitations when using technology and it isn’t always the easier option. There can be technical issues if your conference is global. Finding a suitable time for attendees can be difficult, and the meetings can be taxing.” He said he felt more fatigued after an hour’s virtual meeting than after an hour of a live event.
Gadi Mbuya, CEO of Shades of Green Safaris in Tanzania, was less positive about the technological developments. “With more people attending meetings virtually, the entire supply chain, from airlines to hotels, that was relying on those conference attendees, is now affected.”
He said while he recognised the benefit of virtual and hybrid events, which allowed attendees to save time and money they would have spent travelling to the destination, it had a negative impact on the tourism value chain.
Langley highlighted that virtual events were not there to replace live events. “It’s not that this is the end of the conference industry, or that this is the only way conferences can continue. Rather it’s a way forward and an opportunity for new revenue.” He said in many hybrid events, the number of live attendees hadn’t decreased.
Davidson agreed and said people with concerns similar to Mbuya’s had been wary of hybrid conferences in the past. “We had hybrid events for years and companies were wary of them, thinking that the offering of virtual attendance would greatly reduce the number of live attendees. There has been no evidence of that happening and now, I think more than ever, people realise the value of live, face-to-face events.”
Bukula said for many, travelling to an event was about more than the event itself, and asked panellists whether or not there would be a resurgence in live event attendance due to the accompanying travel experience.
Langley felt strongly that both the travel and mixing of business and leisure were important aspects for the MICE industry. “There’s no real replacement for shaking someone’s hand and looking them in the eye. People like interacting with people, seeing places they’ve never seen before… I think it’s a part of the lifeblood of our industry. Things are hosted in exciting and exotic places and people have a desire to travel.”
He concluded that many destinations had repositioned themselves in the MICE market during the COVID period and would present adjusted marketing plans once travellers were ready to travel again.