Hybrid Events – a summary of the (virtual and physical) landscape

By James Bland

As with all innovations in meetings and events, we have early adopters coming to the fore, as well as varying approaches to the emerging issue of Hybrid and Virtual Events.  In some cases, it’s little more than re-emphasising AV/connectivity capabilities that already existed while others have completely re-imagined their packages and services in this space.

Specialist meeting providers – think etc.venues, IET venues, Warwick Conferences, the Royal College of Physicians to name but a few - are starting to put these front-and-centre of their offering:  It’s easy to find on their site, there are clear packages available and they highlight how they can enable virtual attendees to join events hosted at their venue.

Some have gone further still – The Royal Lancaster Hotel has invested heavily in a SmartStudio, which “creates a fully immersive, 360-degree experience” for guests though Extended Reality akin to the BBC News or Match of the Day studios.

These are generally anchored to a single property as the base for an event, something which is fine if there is one clear and logical “hub” where the core of it will take place.

But one hub may not fit all

What about an event that needs more than one home?  Well, by definition this is beyond the normal realm of single-site operators, while all but the largest of brands will struggle to provide complete geographic coverage.   We may be seeing a future with greater collaboration between smaller, independent providers or even strategic partnerships between groups.  Great news, perhaps, for consortia such as Venues of Excellence, IACC, Academic Venue Solutions or the Meetings Industry Association while you could imagine a provincial operator such as Village and a London group such as glh teaming up to fill in the other’s gaps.

The largest hotel giants, though, who, you would think, are perfectly placed to offer a networked event make you work pretty hard to find this information, even where they have event-specific spin-offs to their main brand.com websites, it sometimes doesn’t exist or is limited to one part of the world.

And there are other approaches to consider

Here come the platforms!  A quick Google search for “virtual events” throws up a range of providers from Bizzabo to Splash.  At this stage, you couldn’t rule out a sea change where instead of AV and tech being suppliers to hotels and venues, venues and hotels become suppliers to tech!

There is also an opportunity for third parties such as cvent or Absolute Digital Communications, a new sister company to Absolute Corporate Events, to embed themselves in client organisations, while you may know Convene for their 20 or so US meeting venue and co-working spaces.  You’ll soon know them in London, too and they seem to be looking to become a platform for all of a company’s space – their regular office, their virtual events and their in-person meetings as well.

If you’re a hotel or venue, your competitive set just got a whole lot bigger.

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