Gambling Insider looks into the role of virtual events during the COVID-19 pandemic and assesses whether or not digitalisation is here to stay.
Due to the need for social distancing and limitations on international travel, virtual events have played a vital role during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, industry events have been postponed or cancelled as large-scale meetings became logistically unfeasible. In the space of just a few months, we saw ICE London 2021 rescheduled for April 20-22, Clarion’s ICE North America event in May supplanted by a digital summit, the CasinoBeats Malta summit replaced by a virtual offering, and a number of other digital transitions.
Virtual gatherings have allowed the industry to remain connected when it has been otherwise impossible to do so. Through digital meetings, industry minds have been able to gather to discuss the future of a sector turned upside down by events of the past few months. Discussions have ranged from the implementation of health and safety measures in physical casinos, to the necessity of alternative verticals for online sportsbooks, and everything in between.
But now the pandemic and its resultant restrictions seem to be easing in some areas of the world. So how have these virtual events really performed as a substitute? Has this pandemic offered us a glimpse into the future of industry events, or will organisers ultimately return to traditional formats?
Event organisers certainly seem to be embracing the shift towards digitalisation. Among the long list of events opting for a virtual version this year is iGB Live. Clarion cancelled both iGB Live and iGB Affiliate Amsterdam 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The events were originally scheduled for September 2020 at the RAI in Amsterdam, now the new dates will be 13-16 July 2021. Fans of these shows were not completely disappointed however as iGB Live Online took place on 14-16 July, offering attendees a long list of virtual conferences and networking opportunities.
Alex Hamilton-Tomlinson, senior marketing manager of iGB events, has been vocal about the many benefits virtual events can offer. Speaking with Gambling Insider, the she explains how comfort is one major positive to the shift online. “If you attend from home, you don’t need to dress up,” she says. “That’s a big win for some people I think. You don’t need to take an entire day or more out of your schedule to travel to a live event. You can drop in to attend specific sessions, book one-to-one meetings with potential clients and scout the attendee list for who you really want to speak to.”
It would certainly be difficult to disagree with Hamilton-Tomlinson. As many can attest it’s considerably more comfortable attending conferences from within your own home rather than in an auditorium. Undoubtedly, the traditional event dress code is significantly less comfort-oriented than the one we adhere to at home, and with no need for travel, it’s not necessary to dedicate an entire day to an event. Events can be joined whenever convenient and left whenever required.
There is also an argument that the cost of attending physical events makes them more exclusive than they need to be. As Hamilton-Tomlinson points out, virtual events remove the necessity of travel or accommodation costs for international guests. With the use of only a laptop and wifi connection, the CEO of a casino operator in China would now be able to converse with delegates in the UK, US or LatAm through the click of a button.
If the meaning of these events is to connect the industry, then inclusivity should be the aim of any organiser. While the cost of international travel may not be an issue for the industry’s larger companies, it’s the entrepreneurs and self-starters who will truly benefit from such cost savings. Arguably, it’s also these attendees who will take full advantage of the networking opportunities and insight provided at such events. More than anyone, younger companies need to form partnerships to develop; events provide ample opportunities to do just that.
While it’s too early to know what’s in store for the future of physical events, as G2E’s organisers, we are focused on building virtual offerings for our community. G2E Las Vegas is moving quickly to build a platform for the gaming industry to connect, learn and conduct business via innovative, virtual events through 2020 and years to comeKorbi Carrison
Another event forced to forego 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is G2E Las Vegas. Reed Exhibitions has been hosting the Global Gaming Expo since 2001 in partnership with the American Gaming Association, and the event regularly sees an attendance upwards of 27,000 with more than 400 exhibitors. In July, it was announced the in-person event would be cancelled for the first time in its 20-year history. Despite this, however, event organisers are currently working around the clock to put together a virtual offering for its regular attendees although as of press time, dates have yet to be confirmed. Gambling Insider contacted Korbi Carrison, G2E event director, to see what her team has planned. Carrison explains: “While it’s too early to know what’s in store for the future of physical events, as G2E’s organisers, we are focused on building virtual offerings for our community. G2E Las Vegas is moving quickly to build a platform for the gaming industry to connect, learn and conduct business via innovative, virtual events through 2020 and years to come.”
Evidently, Carrison believes virtual events may have a significant role in the future, perhaps keeping the industry more connected than ever before. Listing the many benefits of digitalisation, the event director confirms that G2E will be maintaining “virtual components” in future editions of the event. “Moving to a virtual or hybrid event format allows for more diverse participation from the global gaming community, expands the universe of education content, and enables exhibitors to connect with potential buyers in a turnkey format,” she adds.
It seems that these many benefits have been recognised by those in the industry who would usually attend physical events. iGB Live Online saw a “fantastic response” according to its marketing manager, and organisers across the sector have seen thousands sign-up to attend virtual substitutes. But of course the virtual world also has its downside, and its role in the future of events without considering these wouldn’t be thorough.
The lack of a physical tradeshow floor is certainly a great leveller. Larger companies are now unable to impress potential clients with expensive displays and free drinks – great for smaller businesses looking to establish a presence, yet disappointing for lovers of free alcohol. In their absence, some event organisers are now offering businesses the opportunity to purchase virtual spaces, in which they are able to sell their products and conduct meetings. However, without the opportunity for attendees to physically wander through the rows of weird and wonderful company stands, events do lose a certain spark.
The same can be said for meetings with potential clients or business partners. While virtual events offer the opportunity to chat on message boards or via video link, this pales in comparison to a conversation in the flesh. For now, the digital world is able to offer a temporary substitute, but no doubt executives will be itching to get back into the real world, shaking hands and handing out business cards. “People and organisations depend on face-to-face meetings for business success,” agrees Carrison. For this, the return of physical events is an absolute necessity.
Although the pandemic has been a difficult time for event organisers, they should be able to take a series of vital lessons from the past few months. The many benefits of digitalisation are plain to see, but there are certain aspects to a physical event which are irreplaceable. Rather than supplanting physical events entirely, it seems the future of events lies in an integration of virtual and physical. Perhaps as we move into 2021 and beyond, event attendees can look forward to the best of both worlds.