An expert believes the future is not hopeless for the sector that must innovate to stay afloat in the current unpredictable times but support through improved Internet connectivity, accessibility and affordable data prices will be critical. THATO CHUMA reports
Adaptability continues to be the cornerstone of navigating the unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic, particularly with new variants developing across the world. This has undoubtedly caused much strain in the events industry which has to find fresh strategies to stay relevant.
Thabo Seane, co-founder of Six Dots Studios, a 3D virtual interactive technology and design studio, says merging outdoor events and online experience is the new platform to tap into for sustainable growth in this sector this year and beyond. “Virtual experience platforms can be leveraged as tools to amplify physical experiences,” Seane asserted in an interview. They can be merged with physical events and activities to create greater reach and exploit growth opportunities online.
“This merger of the physical and the virtual creates what is called a hybrid event. Beyond the pandemic, as live events, activities and gatherings return, virtual event platforms will add value by enabling physical events to be accessible to attendees and exhibitors who cannot reach the physical event. It enables them to participate and access the event remotely, minimising risk in this pandemic.”
He added because the content is captured, attendees to revisit the highlights of the event, making it more memorable. In 2020, Seane and his partner Victor Chelemu designed the virtual experience edition of Global Expo Botswana. Seane emphasised that such events present new opportunities for organisers, such as tracking the number of attendees per event for better future planning in order to maximise engagement and give sponsors a solid track record of their efforts.
“Cloud-based experiences give attendees the opportunity to interact with exhibitors and interactive content online,” he pointed out. “The experience mimics many attributes of physical events, with the added advantage of being hosted online 24/7 for any period of time and being accessible through a web browser from anywhere and on any smart device with the Internet.
“This makes them powerful digital marketing platforms that can promote an event long after it ended. For Botswana, virtual event platforms can greatly add value to our local events and activities through their online global reach. They can create opportunities for local talent and products to be interactively experienced online as well as give our live events a digital presence that can be revisited. The platforms create new opportunities in preserving live event content and experiences online, which can also expand how we have been monetising events.”
While live streaming quality is the main concern for event organisers, there are other challenges such as high data prices, slow Internet speed, slow adoption of the platforms by Batswana and lack of ICT infrastructure, which are all necessary for giving seamless experiences. Seane stated that local virtual events must be created with accessibility in mind. “Local event platforms, first and foremost, need to be able to run online using our current standard Internet speed of 4mb/s,” he noted. “The platform needs to be optimised for use on desktop computers, laptops and mobile phones.
“Mobile Internet is the most commonly used to access online platforms, hence virtual events should be developed with mobile access in mind. With high data charges, virtual event developers must work with event organisers to include free Wi-Fi hotspot access. Public spaces such as malls, schools and businesses can offer attendees free Wi-Fi during the event. Furthermore, sponsorship opportunities from mobile data service providers can help with offering attendees event data bundle packages.
|Rural accessibility cannot be ignored. All digital transformation technology must allow every Motswana to have the opportunity to participate in the 4th industrial revolution. Virtual event platforms must therefore have a “low-tech” accessibility solution for those without access to technology hardware. Schools, community centres and public buildings can become virtual event access hubs where computers, Wi-Fi and smart devices can be available for public use. Organisers must also leverage current tools such as Facebook and WhatsApp to broadcast these events and allow participation through existing chat tools. Developing a virtual event does not only require technological innovation but also innovation of how we interact as people.”
In Seane’s view, there is a great likelihood of seeing more hybrid events this year because digital transformation continues to grow exponentially: “Virtual event platforms can display videos, images, text, documents and 3D environments and models all integrated with video conferencing and live chat tools on one single platform,” he explained.
“With such versatility, businesses looking to integrate virtual experience platforms into their current offerings should firstly analyse their current customer journeys, meaning how they promote, attract, capture, engage and convert potential leads into customers. They can map these customer journeys out with their sales, marketing and IT team to look for opportunities where technology can improve and add value to their current processes. By mapping out the customer journey, they can make informed decisions.”
He emphasised that like any industry, the events sector in Botswana has to innovate to stay afloat in the current unpredictable times. This should be supported through improved Internet connectivity, accessibility and affordable data prices.