Simon Clayton, chief ideas office of RefTech – the industry leading event registration company shares his thoughts on the event tech landscape and how events have returned to ‘the Old Normal’:
What feels like a lifetime ago there was a Covid19 pandemic – you might remember it… During the pandemic the events industry did whatever they could to survive and that meant trying to switch to virtual events, given that we weren’t allowed to meet in person and we all used tech to keep us all connected in some way. A lot of events announced that they were going to transition to online/virtual but there were also Zoom panel debates and of course the Metaverse came to the fore and dominated the VR discussions for events.
Lots of tech companies embraced this new landscape, they had platforms and tech to support remote meetings and virtual events so they grew and flourished. The share price of Zoom more than quadrupled in the pandemic – reaching its height in October 2020.
But since then, how have they fared?
Zoom has had a steady decline and now share prices are pretty much back to where they were in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit. This drop is reflected in the recent news that Zoom has announced they are cutting 1,300 employees, which equates to 15% of their workforce and will cost them $50 million to $68 million in layoff charges. This is the latest round of cuts from the tech sectors – Amazon, Google and Meta have recently announced redundancies, and we have also seen many event tech companies struggle and close or scale down.
Virtual events may well have their place and for some they will help to connect disparate audiences. They increased over Covid, but as we’re now seeing, this was only because they were the only option open to us, and quite frankly they were better than nothing (although I may argue this point another day).
The ‘new normal’ activities that we all had to embrace are now being replaced with… the old things that we used to do. Is this the ‘old normal’ – or shall I just call it ‘normal’? We are meeting in person again, attending exhibitions in person and generally getting back to doing what we used to do. Normality seems to have returned harder and faster than we could have ever imagined.
We are a company that facilitates live events and we love live; it is our passion and our forte. We were struck badly with the pandemic and we did do some integrations to aid virtual meetings function for our event management platform but we didn’t see the uptake. I know that many companies did pivot (I saw event agencies rebrand as digital agencies and some AV companies pivoted to live stream funerals for example) but they seem to have gone back to doing what they did before. I’m not saying that pivoting was wrong, we all had to do what we did to get by and survive. But what I am saying is that it was a blip and should be seen as a blip and not the ‘new normal’. We need to accept that virtual has a place, but it’s not the huge leap forward into the future that many thought it would be.
We are always looking ahead though, so instead of moving to virtual, we invested in creating technology that enabled real life events to be safer. That tech has now won awards and we are developing it further – because, guess what? People are returning to live events in droves and event organisers are keen to embrace this return – albeit with a few caveats to make their events safer.
Perhaps this ‘old normal’ isn’t quite the same as it was before, but it is pretty damn close, and I for one welcome it back. I’ve said this before and I will die on this hill: meeting in person with other people in our industries at live events is what makes those events work. Otherwise, we could just be watching TED talks on YouTube!