Cvent, a market-leading meetings, events, and hospitality technology provider, kicked off its annual Cvent CONNECT® Europe conference today at the InterContinental London – The O2. Day one of the event was hosted as a hybrid experience, delivering one event with two unique experiences for the in-person and virtual audiences. Cvent CEO & Founder Reggie Aggarwal delivered the opening keynote address, offering his insights on pandemic-driven innovation and evolution that have transformed the MICE and hospitality industries.
In his address, Aggarwal reflected on the past 18 months and offered an insightful look at the accelerated transformation of the meetings and events landscape in light of the global pandemic. “COVID hit us like a freight train and practically overnight the entire world shut down. Back then, when in-person events were mostly non-existent, none of us was feeling very optimistic about our industry” Yet, Aggarwal added, “Even at that moment, with so many unknowns, event and hospitality professionals around the world remained resilient. Who would’ve thought that just 18 months later, we’d have the technology and expertise to deliver events that can reach and engage more people than pre-pandemic.”
Recalling his Cvent CONNECT Europe keynote presentation in 2020 where he declared the industry was on the cusp of the Golden Age of Events – a time when events will reach a broader audience and become an even more critical part of the business landscape, Aggarwal commented: “I know at the time a lot of people found it hard to believe, but I think we are entering a time where events are more numerous, more valuable, and more important to an organisation’s marketing efforts.” He added, “The pandemic has been a catalyst for innovation that I believe will change the face of our industry.”
Aggarwal summarised the driving forces behind the industry’s massive transformation into four key pillars:
1. Rapid digitisation of the industry
Many meetings and events professionals had to embrace technology to fill the in-person events void when the pandemic started. Because of this digital transformation, organisations discovered the massive reach of virtual experiences—and the accessibility and flexibility they offer attendees. By leveraging technology, such as the Cvent Attendee Hub™, organisations also discovered the depth of attendee engagement data that can be collected and utilised to drive better experiences and quality business leads.
While Aggarwal highlighted the important role of digital transformation, he also reminded attendees of the enduring value of in-person events, “where you can shake someone’s hand, look them in the eye, and break bread.”
2. Evolving roles of planners, hoteliers, venues, and attendees
When everything went virtual, planners had to adapt; working more closely with marketing and technology teams as the lines between digital marketing and events blurred. By working more closely with these new stakeholders, planners have taken on roles as data scientists—working to ensure data flows from one event to the next and measuring event impact across the customer or employee journey.
Meanwhile, hoteliers and venues recognised and adapted to the desire of their customer – the event planner – to explore and book event space completely online. Forward-looking hoteliers, venues, and destinations are showcasing their spaces and cities with high-quality virtual tours, 3D event diagrams, and enhanced onsite technology infrastructure. Aggarwal noted, “In short, we’re in an environment now where a hotel’s digital assets are becoming almost as important as their physical ones.”
Attendees, for their part, have come to expect that virtual events will be more engaging and informative. They expect digital components that complement and enhance their in-person experience – whether that’s through more personalised pre-event networking sessions, interactive mobile event apps, access to on-demand content for the sessions they missed, or online communities to continue the conversation post-event.
The triple threat of in-person, virtual, and hybrid
Virtual events now play an important role as part of a more strategic Total Event ProgrammeSM, and the industry’s success with virtual and the clear desire for in-person event experiences make a strong case for hybrid events, which offer the best of both worlds: the deep engagement of in-person and the scale of virtual. “As a planner, you have to be proficient in managing, producing, and executing all three because we believe your attendees won’t just expect it, they’ll demand it,” said Aggarwal. “And it’s the combination of these three event types that we believe will lead to even greater success for our industry.”
The arrival of the continuous event
With the combination of in-person, virtual, and hybrid events, attendees have more ways to interact with events than they did pre-pandemic – even before and after events occur. “And frankly, when you factor in that content is now on-demand, the traditional start and end dates of events start to blur – because in the digital world, engagement never stops. We believe planners and marketers now have a tremendous opportunity to embrace what we’re calling the continuous event. These ‘always on’ digital environments are where event organisers can engage their customers, employees, members, alumni, or donors with more content and more opportunities to connect.”
Together, the four pillars present a new events landscape and engagement economy where the opportunities to engage and interact have multiplied and the event channel has become more valuable.