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March 17, 2020

Meeting without moving. The impact of Coronavirus on events – and how virtual spaces can offer an alternative option to connecting people.

With travel bans increasing and calls to minimise mass gatherings of people in response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the impact of these restrictions is starting to be felt across the world’s economy. 

The effect on sectors that rely on the movement of people is potentially huge, including the aviation and events sectors. How could the adoption of immersive technologies strategies and the introduction of VR, AR and XR solutions help businesses to respond effectively to minimise the damaging impact?

Impact on the global economy

The Coronavirus is having an undeniably negative impact on the global economy leading to stock markets nosediving and a worldwide recession and increasing threat. 

With the introduction of travel bans and border closures, coupled with people’s fears around using air travel during the crisis, this has led to inevitable significant loss of revenue across the board for the international aviation industry. The outbreak has been partly attributed to the collapse of regional airline, Flybe, in addition to announcements of route closures and staff layoffs from major international airlines including British Airways and SAS.  

At the beginning of March 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) updated its analysis of the financial impact of COVID-19 on the global air transport industry. It now predicts 2020 global revenue losses for the passenger business of between $63 billion and $113 billion.

Closed for registration: The impact of Coronavirus on events and conferences 

Events are increasingly being hit by travel shutdowns and calls for the reduction of mass gatherings in response to global efforts to tackle the spread of Coronavirus. 

No sector is immune to the impact of this worldwide outbreak.  The entertainment sector has already seen the suspension of high profile cultural and entertainment events such as Coachella and of all esports activity by Riot Games and Electronic Arts. Major sporting events, such as Premiership matches are being postponed indefinitely. The enterprise sector is also feeling the significant impact of shutdown through the cancellation of major global conferences and shows, such as the Geneva Motor Show and NAB

The implications are potentially devastating for the events sector and beyond. Industry conferences, shows and exhibitions provide crucial strategic functions for businesses; from SMEs to multinationals and across all industry sectors. From high profile product launches and showcasing innovations, to keeping up-to-date with industry advances, making new connections and generating sales leads means that attending, speaking and exhibiting at events is critical for business development. 

The business of events is costly and high risk for event organisers and attendees alike – and the losses associated with the cancellation of industry events can be eye-wateringly high and have long term implications. The up-front investment and staff time that businesses commit to when attending and exhibiting events is often significant and non-refundable. In addition, the cost in terms of potential business development cannot be underestimated. 

The cancellation of SXSW and E3 are particularly significant for the immersive tech sector. It is a devastating blow to tech innovators and content creators from across the world, who would normally be heading on their annual pilgrimage to promote their products, seek international collaborators, raise funds and seek out distribution channels.

But in response to the disappointing news of SXSW and E3’s cancellation, many immersive innovators who were due to attend have looked to virtual reality solutions to provide alternative virtual spaces. 

Using immersive tech – a potential solution to events-based activities?

While immersive technologies can’t yet truly replace the collective experience of bringing together diverse groups of people to debate, share ideas, showcase work and socialise, they can offer an effective, low risk, low cost alternative – and one that is also more environmentally friendly in the face of our ongoing climate crisis.

Online conference facilities such as Zoom provide an effective means of remote communication, and have already seen usage skyrocket since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak. And while these platforms effectively bring people in multiple locations together, virtual reality platforms such as AltspaceVR, Hubs by Mozilla, Rumii, Somnium Space have the potential for an unlimited number of people to share a collaborative and immersive experience in a more connected and impactful way.

For example, Future Visual’s platform, VISIONxR™ has the potential to bring people together in multiple locations from across the globe to collaborate, work and learn together. And where some VR-based platforms may have limited reach due to the limitations of hardware, VISIONxR™ works across any device, including VR, AR, desktop and mobile, making it perfect for accessible access for all.  

Virtual platforms for events – not just for plan B?

The Coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the significant risk of the reliance of international face-to-face events and demonstrates the risk of having limited (or no) Plan B’s in place. But the adoption and implementation of tailored immersive strategies could help companies to minimise issues triggered by travel restrictions.   

In this current climate of shutdown, virtual spaces may serve as an effective Plan B backup, in the longer term, they could be embraced as a viable alternative to live events, providing compelling interactive spaces which could help reduce global travel and the impact this has on our climate crisis.

Events such as Educators in VR offer a model for effective virtual event models, having recently featured a week of over 150 events on five different virtual platforms, with an estimated 6,000 attendees. 

Immersive tech may also provide an effective alternative for companies who traditionally use industry shows to launch new products. For example, in the automotive industry, using VR is a natural progression from live streaming the unveiling of vehicles, by providing personalised experiences for potential 

customers. The additional advantage of producing virtual spaces to meet – from large scale events to small meetings, means that brands can be in direct contact with their customers 24/7, 365 days of a year. 

Immersive tech companies have the potential to offer effective solutions to real-world challenges for businesses who have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. For immersive tech businesses, this also gives us the chance to diversify client bases and tap into new, global audiences who can tangibly benefit from integrating immersive tech solutions into their business strategies. 

Further reading