Should DMOs play a role in attracting hybrid events?

The extended pandemic means more events are shifting to a mix of digital formats. Rod Kamleshwaran, partner at GainingEdge, talks about why DMOs shouldn't ignore hybrid events.

Dubai's DMO

Destination Marketing Organisations’ (DMOs) traditional role has been to develop and promote the destination and attract visitors that generate direct and indirect expenditure in the local economy along with intangible social and economic benefits.

Attracting “visitor expenditure” is the underlying motivation for public sector investment in DMOs and convention centres. Expenditure in venues, hotels, dining, retail, attractions, etc.

Dubai is actively building its capacity to host hybrid events, which in turn will bring about visitor expenditure

As Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc, it is accelerating the shift of conference and meetings to virtual and hybrid formats. It is extremely difficult to predict when freedom to travel and confidence will return.

But it will not be any time soon.

Few DMOs are actively pursuing hybrid events. DMOs’ reluctance for virtual events is logical. But DMOs ignoring hybrid events will be a mistake.

Virtual only events are attractive right now due to regulatory barriers on travel and gatherings. The demand is expected to subside once the barriers to physical events are lifted and confidence returns. A small share of events will opt to remain in virtual only mode. An extended Covid period will favour this level of permanent shift due to a longer take-up period and rapid improvement in technology.

But virtual events have no physical attendance i.e. no visitor expenditure. They are not typically anchored to a destination.

DMOs cannot justify pursuit of virtual events that don’t directly lead to visitor expenditure or hotel taxes, except in instances that present a compelling destination profiling opportunity.

Hybrid events are different. These events are a mix of physical and virtual. They are anchored to a destination and lead to actual visitor expenditure.

Prior to Covid-19, hybrid events had a negligible market share. DMOs did not invest resources in this. After Covid-19, hybrid events will represent a market share that DMOs cannot ignore.

This will occur despite the aggressive response of governments, airlines, hotels, and DMOs to attract physical events that generate visitor expenditure.

DMOs don’t know specifically which events will choose this format but it will be many. They can’t afford to wait. Singapore and Dubai are examples of destinations actively building their capacity to host hybrid events.

DMOs need to prioritise resources on physical events that generate maximum expenditure and taxes. But they should also pursue hybrid events that meet set thresholds for expenditure and destination profile.

Planners need to know if the DMO will support hybrid events, and how. DMOs need to take inventory of their hybrid-ready venues, figure out how best to support hybrid events, how to leverage the vastly larger audience, and how to deal with multi-site hybrid events that involve competing destinations. They need to revise the incentives and sales tools focused on physical events to next-gen events.

Rod Kamleshwaran is a partner at GainingEdge, and leads the Convention & Exhibition Centre Development advisory team. His expertise is in the development and asset management of hospitality assets – convention & exhibition centres, hotels, and casino integrated resorts. A specialist in mixed-use developments, Kamleshwaran has advised government and private sector clients on projects with a completion value exceeding US$20 billion.

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