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Events in a COVID World and Beyond

Updated: Jan 4

The global COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on every aspect of our lives, with widespread lockdowns, travel bans and social distancing limiting our freedoms. At the time of writing this, there have been 184M cases, and nearly 4M deaths around the world.

A number of industries that were thriving before the virus struck are struggling to stay afloat. Those whose cloud journeys were already fairly advanced transitioned to working from home with relative ease, those who were behind struggled or shit their doors. Multiple businesses have closed down, and millions of people around the world have lost their income - on the whole, it's a pretty dire picture.

One of the industries that has been badly affected is the events industry. Events bring people together, for conferences, festivals, exhibitions, concerts and sporting events. Even smaller, private events such as weddings and other celebrations have been curtailed. Major international technology events such as Mobile World Congress were cancelled in 2020, along with every prominent conference and sporting event I can think of.

The Olympics that were set to happen in Tokyo, were postponed by a year for the very first time since their modern-day inception. Euro 2020 was also postponed last year, and is finally happening now. Last week, the Austrian Grand Prix took place with a full-capacity audience for the first time in a year.

So is there light at the end of the tunnel? I believe that as people, we need social interaction. It is a part of who we are, and a reason why we are here. Sitting in South Africa amid a rising third wave of COVID, I’ve wondered if things will ever get back to normal, whatever normal might mean in a post-pandemic world.

ITWeb, who I’ve been working for for nearly 15 years has been a leader in technology events for many years, and encouragingly, has found ways to still bring its audiences together to share the latest and greatest updates and expertise in the tech sector. Our flagship Security Summit has been held as a virtual event for two years now, with more than 60 local and international speakers, and was incredibly well received by our audience. Realising that “online everything” is the “new normal” we have digitally transformed too, across the board.

Many other companies have also gone the virtual route, and a number of nimble startups are disrupting the events space, offering access to virtual exhibitions and conferences to recreate the authentic experience. Many others are offering sessions via a variety of video conferencing tools, and Zoom, towards the end of last year, debuted a virtual event marketplace, which lets users create, host, and monetise virtual events.

A number of organisations have embraced unique approaches to making virtual events more tailored and immersive, such as UK-based New Black Studio launching Event in a Box, that it says is designed to bring online events to life by offering a fun and engaging experience to attendees, and promises to provide “safe, creative and innovative ways to host awards, conferences, product launches and networking events without being in the same space.”

So what does the future hold for the events industry? When the pandemic is over, and we are permitted to relax social distancing and interact as normal, will there still be a niche for these new, virtual providers? My answer would be “yes”. I don't see the world returning to normal any time soon, and even if it does, I see erring on the side of caution as being the way forward. Perhaps a hybrid model, that combines the physical and the virtual will become the norm, as people will be able to decide whether to attend in person or virtually, and event organisers won't be constrained by venue and crowd limitations.

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