The meetings and events industry is in upheaval. Live conferences and shows struggled over the past year as COVID-19 restricted travel and in-person attendance. The in-person event industry was brought to its knees by the pandemic, and live events, face-to-face networking and the buzz of an exhibition have been put on hold. The entire live events industry has essentially been shut down since March 2020. This includes all the ancillary services industries such as travel, hospsitality, booth construction, brochure printing, as well as the exhibit halls.

Meetingsnet.com estimates that the industry will lost $233 billion during the first half of 2020 alone. David Walens, COE of Exploring INC said, “In the trade show world in that regard you’re talking about supporting the GDP of $850 billion to $1 trillion a year. You’re talking about thousands of companies and millions of jobs – in the trade show world – you’re talking about 10 million jobs lost because they’re totally shut down.”

Now, as vaccines roll out in force and restrictions loosen, the prospect of in-person trade shows seems viable once again. Still, the path forward may not be clear. Even as the pandemic fades, concerns over event safety will likely linger for some time. Similarly, some would-be attendees may now prefer virtual trade show experiences after becoming accustomed to them.

It will probably take a long time, even a few years, for trade shows to reach their pre-pandemic levels.

Although virtual events have been an effective alternative for both organizers and attendees, according to Event Manager Blog’s event statistics, 72% of live events failed to profitably pivot to a virtual format. Hybrid events – a combination of in-person content with virtual aspects – are expected to retain their place in the industry long after the pandemic. It is estimated that more than 66% of events professionals plan to use the format once in-person events resume.

Virtual events were already growing in popularity pre-pandemic, with the sector valued at almost $78 billion in 2019. It is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027, strongly suggesting this is anything but a temporary phenomenon. According to a recent study by LinkedIn, 45% of future B2B events will be completely virtual.

Budgets are expected to reflect this change immediately as investment in virtual events will be three-times more than physical ones in the next 12 months. The research also finds that a third of event budgets (29%) will be spent on virtual platforms in 2021. When asked why they plan to continue organizing virtual events, the top responses included that they’re pandemic-proof, cost effective and they give global access to content without travel.

Now with the concerns over the Delta Variant, events are once again cancelling their live shows. This is further evidence that virtual shows are desperately needed during this time. Companies rely on shows as a way of introducing new products, gaining customer attention, and marketing their goods and services beyond their local demographic. A decent virtual event format is desperately needed.

Which of course is one of the primary reasons why WebStores ltd. has stepped forward to organize and host virtual events. That 72% of virtual events failing is not a surprise given that live event organizers have never before held a virtual event. Software developers who have never attended a live event have tried to piece-meal together solutions that simply don’t address the needs of the exhibitors and attendees. One of the goals at WebStores Ltd. has always been to help businesses sell more online, so it makes perfect sense that we would not only coordinate virtual events, but put together a platform that takes advantage of what virtual is really good at, such as data tracking and gamification, while exploring alternative ways of addressing the things that virtual events are less good at, such as networking and face-to-face interaction.

We have partnered with two organizations to put on virtual events this Autumn, and are looking forward to what we learn. One of these is the Small Ship Cruising Expo, which will be held September 25th. the event will include virtual booths, a interactive floor plan, a directory listing, and a live conference. While the event will be live on that date, it will remain as a recorded event for 30 days following the show. A similar event for the Small Wedding Expo will be held November 7th, and will include the addition of taking orders at the event.

Some industries are actually better suited for virtual events than live events. Experiences in particular can reach a wider audience and can more effectively display their offering through videos than physical products. In addition to the industries mentioned above, vacation rentals, health supplements, and other intangible services may be great candidates for future virtual shows. If you are in an industry where visitors cannot touch a physical product, a virtual event may be the best way to market your services. Contact WebStores ltd. if you are interested in putting together such an event.