The future that is hybrid events

Hybrid events have established itself as the way forward for the MICE industry. Veemal Gungadin, CEO of, takes a closer look at the industry's inevitable transformation and digital progress, and shares his outlook for the near future

How will this trial period of hybrid events lead to further transformation of the event industry and the way it approaches digital transformation?
These trial hybrid events are giving us a lot of data points on what works, and what doesn’t work. For example, if we look at the latest hybrid event trial, TravelRevive, there were a lot of learning points with regards to what’s working.

Over a period of two days, there were around 1,000 people who attended the event in staggered batches. It showed how cohorting of people – how to risk-manage large groups of people coming in – could be successfully managed with good planning, relevant safety measures and digital tools.

At the same time, we’ve been seeing what the challenges are. How do you draw leads on the tradeshow floor; how do you justify that to sponsors?

These, at the moment, are still unsolved problems, but hybrid events are giving us “practical dry runs” on these aspects. Hybrid is the future, and the current trials are giving us the opportunity to refine the direction the industry goes.

On the topic of digital transformation, the whole industry is being forced to undergo the path of digital transformation. “Digital transformation” means different things for different stakeholders.

Let’s look at venues to start. Venues are being forced to equip themselves today with the relevant hardware, connectivity and even software to enable hybrid events. We see what Marina Bay Sands is doing with things like holographic telepresence.

Today, it is possible to hold a meeting or an event with someone joining remotely with a hologram – and the organiser doesn’t have to fork out the cost of the hardware and equipment and even the software, as that is provided out-of-the-box of the organiser.

On that note, organisers are being forced to undergo digital transformation, to better understand: Who is where, when? Who is meeting who?

This has been a question the industry has been debating for a long time. At a physical event, how do we track who is meeting with who, what is the crowd at a certain booth, or at a specific session? In the past, this was done in a somewhat clunky manner, but now, safety measures have forced organisers to adopt contact tracing solutions. Today, it’s primordial to generate reports on who met with who. The spinoff of that is that it gives organisers the data that they’ve always been talking about, but before didn’t have the hardware or software to acquire.

How does the hybrid model break new ground, and what value does the hybrid model add to the events landscape?
To answer this question, it is necessary to understand hybrid events.

Hybrid combines both physical and digital. Digital components of events are not something new; it’s been happening for a long while, with many events – especially tech events, like Google IO – livestreaming their main sessions for many years now. But, the experience has never been great on the digital side of things.

Now, the industry has been forced to make the experience of both the physical and digital sides good. This, in return, opens up new opportunities. Now, conferences with hundreds of physical attendees can draw in online audiences of thousands or even tens of thousands. Hybrid events break new boundaries by reaching out to new audiences, some which the event may not have been previously contemplating.

How can hybrid events distinguish themselves from purely digital or purely physical events?
It is important to note that hybrid events are harder to organise. It’s a new model. You can’t just focus on one component; it’s more like running two events concurrently. You need two teams to run a hybrid event on both ends. Its initial costs rises, you need more skillsets, and the complexity increases.

But hybrid events distinguish themselves from purely physical or digital events by bringing the best of both worlds. We saw that with TravelRevive: It was a set of different events happening on the digital and physical stage. Physical attendees could network and mingle with their industry partners and colleagues; the face-to-face interaction that events are all about.

At the same time, the digital side had a reach of even more people, who were able to personalise their experience – joining specific sessions that they are interested in and then returning to their busy schedules, without the commitment and resulting time drain that traditional events demand.

What do you think of the hub and spoke (i.e. satellite events) like the ICCA Congress?
When we talk about hybrid, the simplistic way of looking at it is just a physical event with a digital component. But, what’s happening now is that we’re seeing the concept of satellite events emerge – some of which have been successful.

For example, there is BestCities Global Forum. It was meant to bring the top cities together, but this year the physical aspect couldn’t happen. This year, they had a main event geared towards a European audience happening at a European timezone. At the same time, we had a Singapore version – a physical event held at Marina Bay Sands, with speakers joining physically on-stage that was streamed live in Europe.

Speaking of Asia-Pacific, what are some of the MICE trends you foresee?
Outside of hybrid events, developments will be more on the digital side of things. There will be many categories of events that will remain fully digital for the time to come: meetings, educational conferences, partner conferences where more corporate companies are going fully digital to minimise risks to employees.

As such, one of the new things coming up is: How do we improve the experience in the digital realm? So far, we have been preoccupied with pragmatic concerns: How do we get speakers onto the conferencing platform, how do we make sure attendees can hear them, and so on.

That’s why interest in conferencing platforms like Zoom shot up. That’s starting to change now, as people consider: How do I create a better digital experience online? As a result, we see more emerging applications of 3D, augmented reality, mixed reality, and more venues being equipped with these capabilities.

As we move away from pragmatic concerns, another new focus that is coming back is: How do we make events fun for those joining us digitally? Things like gamification are nothing new, but it’s coming back to the forefront.

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