Virtual Events: Replacement or Reinvention?

Should virtual events replicate live events as closely as possible or should they be completely new experiences?
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February 19, 2021

Article actual date: Feb 19, 2021

Digitisation of Events: The New Normal

More than a decade ago in 2009, a web article questioned whether virtual trade shows and conferences could become a realistic alternative to business-to-business (B2B) events [1]. Fast forward to 2021, the rapid acceleration of virtual events has become a global phenomenon, one that has arguably been born out of necessity rather than choice. The pandemic whirlwind has put pressure on businesses to adopt a digital approach, and the numbers don’t lie.

  • In a survey conducted by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), 70% of business events professionals reported already incorporating virtual elements for their events [2].
  • Wild Apricot, a management software service provider, reported that only 11% of its membership organisations do not plan to conduct virtual events [3].
  • During last year’s Global Meetings Industry Day, close to 80% of attendees predicted that hybrid and virtual events are the way of the future [4].

In the Journal of Convention & Event Tourism dated 2010 [5], there is the preconceived notion that the events industry has “ traditionally been slow to adopt IT solutions, with many saying that the industry is about high touch not high tech ”. While this may be true ten years ago, is the assumption still valid in this day and age?

The Evolution of Virtual Events

The year 2010 was a year full of technological breakthroughs. From the launch of the first-generation iPad to the release of one of our favourite social media platforms, Instagram, we witnessed first-hand the seemingly limitless potential of tech innovation.

In the events industry, something similarly groundbreaking was brewing. UBM Studios, a pioneer in tech-driven business solutions, organised the biggest ever online computer trade show known as COMDEX Virtual. The event brought numbers which were unprecedented at that time — 100 expert speakers, 50 industry sessions, as well as over 5,000 attendees [6]. For comparison, as of today, the largest attendance for a virtual business conference as recorded by Guinness World Records is 21,261! [7].

The custom environment was carefully designed to mimic a face-to-face event with Hospitality Suites, Exhibit Halls and Vendor Booths [8]. Elements of personalisation such as booth-builder tools and custom electronic postcards clearly suggest that the key concept of user experience was already truly well and alive a decade ago.

Rewinding the clock back to virtual events of yesteryear

Today, the successes of Jublia’s recent events such as HLTH VRTL, THAIFEX — Anuga Asia, Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics and Summer Sourcing Week were made possible through the innovations of its predecessors.

At present, virtual events offer a multitude of features. From interactive virtual booths where attendees can view immersive 360° panoramic images to synchronised schedules where the user won’t ever miss an important keynote speech, virtual events have come a long way. Such features are constantly being reworked, refined and remodelled in order to provide a heightened user experience.

The Direction of Virtual Events

Virtual platforms have undoubtedly become an integral part of the events industry. That being said, should virtual events mimic the real world as much as possible? Or should organisers strive to craft a new value proposition? With the nature of B2B events being heterogeneous in that they serve different industries and cater to diverse audiences, who is to say what is the right format?

The excerpt below taken from Donald Getz’s (2007) book on ‘Event Studies’ offers some food for thought:

Virtual events will gain in frequency and importance in response to advances in global technology, and because of globalisation forces and the costs or risks of travel, but they will be in addition to, and not a substitute for live event experiences.

The goal of virtual events has never been to replace the traditional physicality of live, face-to-face events. Instead, it is about creating new experiences which are driven by the intersection of technology, psychology and design. Take 3D environments as an example. Sure, they are enticing as they create a spatial presence akin to real life, but the navigational freedom afforded by 3D modelling may in fact be confusing for attendees.

The closing question therefore is — In what direction should virtual events head towards? Perhaps we should steer away from being too caught up in perceiving virtual events simply as replacements and instead view them as a blank canvases for connecting people and businesses.

Let us know what imaginative features you hope to see becoming a reality in the future, however wild they may be! Talk to us at or reach out to anyone you know at Jublia!

Written By :
Amsyar Jailani
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