A race for relevancy

In a rapidly digitalising events landscape, event venues need to transform themselves into agile content incubators to survive. By Karen Yue.

The accelerated digitalisation of business events throughout the pandemic and travel crisis has threatened the existence of convention and exhibition venues, forcing a change in their traditional roles, observed industry leaders.

During the Venue Technology Update presentation on October 7, part of ICCA Congress 2020’s six-week-long Global Hybrid Congress Experience, speaker Manish Chandak, president and CEO of Ungerboeck Software International, noted that changes in the way events are delivered today are “hitting venues the hardest”.

This is what the future of events looks like – think online video conferences to socially-distanced seating at physical events

“There is a fear that venues are being left behind,” Manish said, adding that “venues have to fiercely fight for onsite events because that is the core of our industry”.

To fight right in today’s environment, Manish said venues would need technology that allows them to establish high levels of collaboration with event organisers, as well as agility to manoeuvre from large-scale physical gatherings to smaller scale online or hybrid events at short notice. Such abilities will give event organisers confidence to commit to the venue and begin planning.

Manish further suggested that venues adopt an events portal that will enable collaboration between all parties through continuous and transparent task management; sharing of attendee lists and functions and orders; room diagramming systems to allow continuous updating of an event design with social distancing and flow; mobile tasks and checklists that demonstrate safety guarantee through evidence and action; visitor tracking capability that allows self-serve; sign-in for visitors prior to the event, with the option of asking about recent travel and current health; and a sophisticated event showcase that projects the venue as a highly technical destination capable of bringing the organiser’s content to life.

A change in business model is also needed, opined Sven Bossu, CEO of the International Association of Conventions Centres (AIPC), who urged venues to become “content incubators” going forward.

“Venues will need to provide multi-channel platforms that enable organisers to connect with their communities and distribute content in the way delegates want it. Venues will no longer be selling square metres and catering packages; no more pre-established price list; no more use of technology just for advertising earnings,” he elaborated.

A case study: ICC Sydney
The government-imposed shutdown of all in-person events during the pandemic led International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney to alter its operations and services to remain relevant to clients.

It launched its virtual event offerings in March, which then evolved into Hybrid Event Solutions. Debuting in July, the solution merges technology with live experiences.

Geoff Donaghy, CEO of ICC Sydney, said: “This has enabled our clients to continue to run events, both during the height of the pandemic and as restrictions ease. As we look ahead, this service will allow for the continued transition back to more and bigger in-person events, which we know there is strong appetite for, and give clients greater choice in the longer term.”

Since March, ICC Sydney has delivered more than 100 world-class events in a virtual or hybrid format.

And as the appetite for online and hybrid events continue to grow, the venue finds itself innovating further. In October, it launched ICC Sydney Connect, offering end-to-end virtual and hybrid event solutions that allow clients to broadcast their virtual events from a state-of-the-art studio with a customisable interface.

These transitions are supported by a team that is “fully equipped with the latest collaboration and communications technology to ensure they can work effectively while at their desk, from home or from any space within the venue,” added Donaghy.

Casting his eyes on the longer-term future, Donaghy expects venue operators to see a “different business and sector”. What would put ICC Sydney in good stead for that future is its role as “an incubator for ideas, a champion for change and advocate for the community”.

“While the way we run events will continue to evolve, and virtual and hybrid formats will be part of the future, there is nothing quite like the experience of meeting in person,” he concluded.

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