Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists:
Michiel Gen – Director of European Projects at ASIS International and Partner at Exempla (Belgium)
Rachael Shattock – Group Event Director at Nineteen Group (UK)
George Pearson – Regional Director at Afrocet Montgomery (UK and West Africa)

Key points

Rachael Shattock starts on the positive note that events have been around for 800 years and despite many crises they have survived and then thrived and she expects the same following Covid-19. She notes that although the world is a different place there is an impetus and need to adapt and the conference/exhibition/summit world is already doing so. Key is that people are keen to reconnect, it has been a long time in isolation, and the good thing is the security sector is resilient. Racheal believes that going forward the digital will be integrated with the physical. The advantages include the opportunity to reach more diverse audiences, more cost effectively, offering people more variety, with bigger opportunities to promote brand awareness.  As Racheal says, there are various hybrid (digital/physical) models, and these are still emerging. That said, she is a big advocate of the physical, it is what people want, attendees and exhibitors.

Michiel Gen notes that the events world, and including security events, escaped digitalisation for a long time, the virus has forced adaptation and it is now here to stay, and hybrid events will become common as the technology develops. That said, organisers have to adapt to the on-line environment; event design is a challenge and demands new thinking. As he notes attendees don’t not want to be on screen for 3 days. Highlighting some of the benefits of digitalisation he highlights, as an example, the freedom from physical space problems and the broader reach which generates many new opportunities. The difficulty though is recreating the chance encounters, it is difficult but not impossible. He points to roundtable discussions and networking as examples, and opportunities here may evolve with developments in technology.

George Pearson’s main event is in June, and his is more optimistic for this year than he was in 2020. He does not see a significant return to big physical events immediately, although he points to Dubai where there is already a return to something resembling normal. He sees a phased return by regions although the virus is unpredictable and things can change quickly; his own show has had to adapt because of a second wave in Nigeria and international travel restrictions. For George, it is possible to work with different hybrid models (which he calls integrated) – but agreeing with Racheal he notes there are limits to how far one can replicate the benefits of face to face on-line. On the positive side he says that exhibitors have stayed involved, despite changes, and that suggests the physical world is alive and ready to thrive again.

The panellists were positive that physical security events will return, and that they will incorporate the virtual world in the new normal, able in different ways. There are different types of hybrid (integrated) events and the potential of technology has not yet been fully exploited, nor have some of its shortcomings been overcome. This is a space where things are evolving fast but also one where the old ways, meeting people face to face will seemingly (and from this writer’s point of view thankfully) remain common.

Martin Gill
21st January 2021