As the world struggles to drag itself from recession, and the business tourism industry continues to survive despite competitive price wars and a powerful buyers market, I’m going to take a look at the impact this has had on the acceptance of virtual meeting and the future of face-to-face events.
Virtual meetings and online conferencing are not new technologies. Almost 10 years ago, after 9/11, online meeting activity experienced a big increase as people became reluctant fly and companies started to cut budgets.
During this time development companies forged ahead with software advances and today solutions are slick, real-time integrated and a serious contender against some forms of face-to-face events. Trade shows and conference experiences are high on the agenda, with companies like Cisco WebEx and ON24 striving to recreate the ‘real’ experience.
You still get the same goodie bag, this time filled with virtual brochures, and exhibition booths can be visited to watch demonstrations and "chat" with sales reps. You can attend key note sessions and have your questions answered in real time, then listen to speakers and lecture on podcasts with PowerPoint presentations to correspond and even finish off with some ‘virtual networking’.
There’s also the added bonus for exhibitors of finding out in depth visitor information through analytical tracking of their exhibition stand.
Will this spell the end of face-to-face meetings and conferences?
Earlier this year, the BBC reported that in September, AutoWeek magazine will stage the “world’s first virtual green car show” where costs to attend as a car exhibitor will be a fraction of the cost of a live trade show.
But will this really take off for tangible products that you instinctively want to touch and feel? Like with a car, surely one of the most important things is to get behind the wheel for a true sense of how the car feels, smells and makes you feel?
Consider even non-tangible products like the offerings of the MICE market. How would trade shows like IMEX and EIBTM work in a virtual world? In a face-to-face environment, you're using technological tools to promote a venue, destination, or service, but you're also there, looking them in the eye, gauging their reactions and making a connection.
As much as we get more comfortable with the virtual world and the temptation to cut costs draws event organizers towards virtual meeting spaces, the reality is that you can probably never build the same relationships with clients, or make the same impression in a virtual world as you would meeting the person face-to-face.
Just take our Ambassador Bill. When he’s standing on the TCC stand at IMEX, in a Scottish kilt adorned with some kind of animal sporran. It’s almost guaranteed that anyone he speaks with will remember him, even if it is just as the 'Scotsman in the Kilt!"
What are your thoughts and opinions on virtual meetings?