Since the Coronavirus crisis started, we’ve seen billions of dollars from event cancellations all over the world. The list of trade shows, conferences, corporate and associations, concerts, sports, and many other events canceled or postponed is endless. The ripple effect in the travel and hospitality industry is adding many more billions into these losses.

We are having endless debates about how long and painful this situation could be for the travel, hospitality, and live events industries, how we can create new tools supporting the needs of customers in each specific industry, and how we are experimenting with some interesting ideas and opportunities.

As I wrote before, I think that we are seeing a black swan happening in our industry and I personally think that technology could be a fantastic opportunity for event organizers. 

There is a clear opportunity for virtual events in the short term and many organizers are already capitalizing on this need. The inability, almost on a global basis, to organize large gatherings is creating urgent and different needs for people to connect online. This new reality with social distancing is training billions of new users on ways to meet online. Zoom stock is booming and many other customized solutions for virtual live events are growing faster than ever. This is going to create many amazing and unique opportunities for smart event organizers, as well as some challenges for those who are delivering the wrong messages and expectations to users and customers.

Digital revenues represent only 2%  or less of the live events $2.5+ trillion industry, with most of the revenue coming from exhibit space, sponsors, and tickets.

I started to focus on live events and marketing tech a decade ago, after almost twenty years of organizing live events of all sizes and being permanently frustrated with the existing technologies supporting those events. As an entrepreneur who was building an event organizer company, I was always looking for ways to incorporate tech as part of our value proposition and was always frustrated with the existing solutions and the disconnection between the tech guys (the geeks) and the event organizers (the customers, or the dinosaurs as the geeks used to call them).

Everything seems to be different now. In just a couple of months, every single event organizer (corporate, associations, or for-profit organizers) became obsessed with how to learn new ways to organize virtual events and identify reliable vendors and partners. The tech guys are currently creating easy to use and scalable technologies that will meet these needs.

Just a couple of years ago, I co-wrote The Face of Digital and we discussed different ways of how technology could and should intersect with live events. We honestly never thought that something like this could happen and would accelerate, in such a dramatic way, the need to modernize the business and customer experience in the live events world.

I’m receiving many questions from event organizers, brands/exhibitors/sponsors, and events vendors on virtual events,  participating in different webinars on the subject and also starting to think and write a (potentially) new book around this concept of “online to offline to online opportunities” that is being created by the combination of virtual and face to face events.

My main question, are virtual events our friend or foe? which is the title of this blog post, is related to the positive and potentially negative effect of virtual events for our industry.

I shared my own (current views) on potential future scenarios for the live events industry after the Coronavirus and I’m sure that these scenarios will change and evolve quite dramatically during the following months. In any case, following any scenario, I’m confident that virtual events will play a bigger role in the future. But, and this is a huge BUT, virtual events could help or significantly damage live events and vice versa.  I’m not particularly concerned about existing technologies supporting virtual events. There are great solutions for small, medium, and massive virtual events – whether streaming or webinar. There are also additional technologies that could be integrated with said events and increase the value and return of investment for all parties involved. I’m lucky to be an investor and/or advisor to some of these solutions that are now enjoying potential fantastic growth opportunities in helping virtual events creating digital platforms and marketplaces (Balluun), virtual meetings (Grip), or platform solutions for corporate events (Bizzabo), among others.

If you are smart, creative, (and brave enough to assume some risks) as an event creator, you are going to be able to create amazing experiences for your customers in a cost-effective and scalable way using virtual events. Technology is not going to be your problem, just the opposite, it is going to be your best friend. Your main challenge and risk will be focused around how to create ways for your customers (buyers and sellers, fans and celebrities, sports, etc. depending on your industry) to connect with each other while fulfilling or exceeding their expectations. Setting the wrong expectations or creating the wrong content and format for engaging your audience could be a recipe for disaster for your virtual event as well as for your future live events, because, in any scenario, live events will come back at some point and people will continue to go to concerts, sporting events, trade shows, conferences, and many other live events in the near future. Live events could be different after this crisis, but they are not going away. Actually, I think that live events will come back stronger than ever since smart event organizers will create better products using the combination of digital and live events like never before. 

I’m so lucky to be able to talk on a daily basis with amazing tech and event entrepreneurs that are now focused on experimenting with all these new opportunities in ways that are faster and bolder than ever. Despite how long, difficult, and tragically painful this Coronavirus crisis is and will continue to be, the human need for face to face connection and experience is not going away. We are all going to remember these days as a unique chapter of our lives and generation. Like many generations before ours, we can capitalize on this learning opportunity as a way to adapt to change and build a better and different reality. From our own responsibility as an industry that brings joy to billions of sports and concert fans, or business, networking, and education opportunities to billions of business people and industries, we have the responsibility to create new and better ways for all of them to connect virtually and face to face at events that fulfill their specific needs better than ever.

Here is to a long and healthy life for the live (virtual and face to face) events industry.