Are virtual events a threat to the conference tourism? ( 1)

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The new normal is bringing a lot of changes into our society and the way things are done. Change is inevitable and no society has remained static. I remember attending a symposium addressed by Professor Nii Quaynor. He said some twenty years ago, when he pioneered the establishment of the internet in Ghana, many people never believed we will be where we are today. The good old professor is known as “Africa’s father of the internet. He has been at the forefront of web development across Africa. Through his great works today, he has become the first African to be elected to the board of ICANN, the internet corporation for assigned names and numbers. He’s also played an important part in launching the African Network Operators Group and AfriNIC, the African Internet numbers registry. He has also been inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame, lauded as an instrumental figure “in the early design and development of the internet.”

Thanks to the good work of the Professor we are enjoying the internet and all the benefits it brings to our lives and business. What’s app today is a well-known app in Ghana used by many to connect with friends, colleagues and business partners. This is one of the many apps that are downloaded and used through the internet. The revolution has been enormous and as predicted, technology is going to ensure many jobs and busineses are cut out of the system. With the 5th generation mobile network, 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. 5G wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users. Higher performance and improved efficiency empower new user experiences and connect new industries.

Last week I joined a virtual meeting organized by the Ghana Mission in the UK. I must say it was a very well organised meeting and even though I couldn’t see the number of participants online, I still believe it was well patronized. I was due to attend a convention in the US but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held virtually and was a great success. Nowadays, plenty of business is done virtually. Our historic mindset around conferences is that we board a plane to a conference, bring our business cards, and prepare ourselves for a week of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking events that enable us to spread the word about our own products and services while collaborating with other marketers who might have useful tools or suggestions of their own.

We all have been used to physical meetings and interactions, however in recent time since the advent of the COVID-19, many meetings are being held virtually which could be a bid threat to conference tourism which has been held physically in the near past. Participants had to purchase tickets, book accommodation and after the conference mostly partake in some tours. However, with virtual conference gaining grounds, many participants may not eventually travel and that could post a big threat to hoteliers. Let us not think this cannot be and believe that, when COVID-19 is no more, everything will return to normal. Some things have become the new normal and will remain as such. Just as the internet revolution was deemed not to be possible some twenty years back, it has happened and is changing our lives today. The earlier hoteliers begin planning and diversifying their investments, the better it will be for them.

What are virtual Events

Virtual events, in its simplest definition, are events held online. Virtual events use web-based platforms to connect dozens to thousands of attendees from across the globe and often include interactive engagement features such as polling, Q&A, chat boxes, etc. Some of the top virtual event providers include Digitell, Evia, Intrado, ON24, Zoom, GoToMeeting and more. In 2020, there will likely be a rise of virtual conferences.

Virtual Conference Benefits

There are plenty of major benefits to hosting a virtual conference. For one, it can lower the price of admission, enabling smaller businesses with limited budgets to purchase tickets to your conference and offer their own unique insights. It also lowers the cost your business would have to pay for conference space, on-hand staff, catering, security, and much more. Additionally, it allows people from across the globe to interact with each other without needing to spend exorbitant amounts on flights and hotels. Imagine how much easier it is for marketers from India, Ireland, Australia, and the U.S. to collaborate virtually, rather than trying to gather in-person. It also may help you attract high-demand speakers who don’t have the time to commit to an in-person conference but are happy to share industry takeaways via a quick video call or pre-recorded presentation. Additionally, an online conference enables you to create a product — recordings from your conference — that you can continue to share and use as a lead generation tool for months and years after the initial live launch. And, finally, there’s the obvious: sometimes unforeseen circumstances can make in-person conferences in certain locations simply impossible. Emily Raleigh, HubSpot’s Marketing Manager of Brand and Strategic Partnerships, provides some advice if you suddenly find yourself shifting your in-person event to a virtual one: “If you are shifting from a live event, try to add extra value to the viewers who are now tuning in online. Do an extra session. Offer more Q&A time. Give an extra special offer. Find creative ways to add extra delight moments.” Additionally, Raleigh mentions, “Virtual events can easily lose one of the best benefits of live events: human connection. To mitigate that, keep the event engaging and get the audience involved.” Indisputably one of the greatest beneficiaries of the online migration of conferences has been the environment. A recent review estimated that the amount of carbon dioxide generated by each researcher through conference travel ranges from 0.5 to 2 metric tons. Staggeringly, the total carbon footprint of the world’s estimated 7.8 million researchers each traveling to one conference a year is equivalent to that of some small nations. In contrast, organizers of two fully virtual conferences in the U.S. estimated that their total carbon emissions were less than 1 percent of a traditional “fly-in” event.

Leveling the Field

Relocating conferences online has also made them accessible to a larger and more diverse audience. Traveling and prolonged home absence have long raised problems for people with children or disabilities. Similarly, financial and visa restrictions prevent many from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and specific countries from attending international meetings. Removing these barriers associated with travel has instantly rendered many conferences more inclusive. While the 2019 European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna attracted just over 16,200 participants, the online 2020 General Assembly registered over 26,000 individual users. Since virtual conferences scale much better than in-person counterparts, it has been relatively easy to accommodate all these extra attendees.

To kindle social interactions amongst participants scattered across continents and time zones, conferences are bringing new apps into play. “Braindate” and “Brella” match profiles uploaded by attendees and suggest private video conferences to discuss shared interests. Such matchmaking apps not only reintroduce the networking opportunities sought by conferencegoers but may even lower the barrier for more introverted or junior members to reach out to the superstars in their field. Other conference organizers have been using the ability of online platforms to randomly split participants into groups to foster more mixing, rather than watching attendees automatically gravitate towards renowned names.

Behind the Scenes

Conference moderators are also finding other silver linings to the virtual format, which have opened up new possibilities in panel discussion and Q&A sessions. At the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting, held online this year in April, attendees were asked to vote in real time on questions submitted through a chat channel. Aside from improving the wording and airing of more insightful questions, this also drew a larger audience into actively participating throughout the discussion sessions.

Panel discussions can also be better controlled in online conferences. Professor Russ Altman, one of the chairs of the Stanford University–organized COVID-19 and AI Virtual Conference in April, revealed that messaging between moderators on a separate channel helped finesse discussions in real time. “For example, we had one panelist who we thought was contributing a little bit too much,” he said. Through a “backchannel conversation,” moderators jointly decided to ask questions that would engage the other, less vocal panelists.

The above reiterate the fact that things are changing and many people are accepting the change. This are all part of the new world order, the internet of things and so on. as we explore the possible effect on the future of conference tourism most especially to our hoteliers in Ghana, I will be glad to hear from you and also provide your views to this increasing change sweeping over the world.

Photo: Philip GEBU

Philip Gebu is a Tourism Lecturer. He is the C.E.O of FoReal Destinations Ltd, a Tourism Destinations Management and Marketing Company based in Ghana and with partners in many other countries. Please contact Philip with your comments and suggestions. Write to [email protected] / [email protected]. Visit our website at www.forealdestinations.com or call or WhatsApp +233(0)244295901/0264295901.Visist our social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: FoReal Destinations.

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