Globally, the events industry is bouncing back from the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Virtual and hybrid events acquired greater prominence following movement controls and travel restrictions that were imposed as a result of the devastating health crisis. Between 2020 and 2022, virtual and hybrid were the preferred formats for various international events.
Digital music festival Tomorrowland Around the World 2020 was a huge success, with more than a million viewers tuning in from all over the globe. In sports, the Tokyo Olympics was touted as the world’s largest hybrid event in 2021 as more than three billion spectators watched the live broadcasts, according to Olympic News.
For Malaysia, 2022 is considered a groundbreaking year for events post-pandemic, as in-person events are making an exciting comeback. In fact, the country has managed to secure 123 business events to be held between now and 2030, through the initiatives of the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau, and business associates and partners. Such an achievement is testament to the resilience of the events industry and a global collective response to mitigate the challenges of event production in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With changing preferences in event production and technological support systems, experts in the events industry must take a step further to produce a sophisticated affair. Virtual or hybrid events are no longer seen as a pivoting mechanism, but as a valuable addition to boost attendance from the online community. Pre-event marketing campaigns and post-event engagements with the online community could sustain longer with the help of virtual events. In addition, event experts can objectify the role of hybrid events in combining the best elements of an in-person and a virtual event. Hybrid events could be redefined from time to time with newer technologies in hardware and software that are reshaping the events industry.
One of the most exciting updates in the industry is the emerging phenomenon of the metaverse in leisure and business events. Though the adoption of the metaverse in events is still evolving, Forbes magazine reported that the metaverse is the scaled version of multiple virtual environments and will continue to experience increased growth with observable investments by big players such as Facebook, Apple, Disney, Netflix and Nvidia.
The completely immersive experience for metaverse users is likened to playing a virtual reality (VR) or an augmented reality (AR) game personified with self-identity through customisable avatars. Avatars in the metaverse are a fun way to promote oneself; users can choose an avatar personality that looks like them in real life or one that is completely different.
In the metaverse environment, the sky is the limit for an event organiser, notably because of the opportunity to produce immersive sub-events, interactive gamification and enhanced networking experiences. In addition, a more organic approach to branding looks promising in the metaverse environment due to the unique engagement activities with the event attendees. A higher return on investment is foreseeable for event players who can seize the earliest opportunity to redefine events with the metaverse.
The metaverse is seen as the next big thing for events, as a creative tech outlet to elevate event engagement and amplify event activities to greater heights. While technological advancements are welcomed by competitive event players, conservative players may view an advancement like the metaverse as a “disruption” to in-person events.
The argument stems from the need to focus on in-person events post-pandemic, in order to recoup the massive loss of business from event cancellations or the downsized version of in-person events experienced during the pandemic. However, event players must acknowledge that the pandemic has brought unprecedented change to the landscape of event production. The huge success of the virtual and hybrid formats of international events poses a different question in organising events: how to make in-person events better?
The answer lies in the willingness of event players to adopt innovative “disruptions” in the form of technological advancements not limited to VR, AR or 3D technology. It is time for event players to embrace the new normal of event production innovatively one step at a time.
Farah Atiqah Mohamad Noor is a lecturer at the Sunway University School of Hospitality and Service Management