BCD M&E Business Development Director, Helen Carmichael, sits down with a hotel partner to discuss current preparations and precautions for hosting hybrid events.
The Royal Lancaster Hotel London
Talks Hybrid with our UK Team
With restrictions being lifted this month for events in the UK, I've recently spent time talking to a number of supplier partners including Radisson, ExCeL London and now the Royal Lancaster Hotel, about how hybrid events will play a part in our industry’s future landscape. In all our discussions, a few common threads stand out for me, the key one being that hybrid is an idea whose time has come and is here to stay. No doubt accelerated through the pandemic and subsequent technological leaps in virtual events, but for everyone I spoke to; this has been on the cards for some time.
The other commonality has been for the need to invest in the technology to be able to support demand from corporate clients and partners like BCD Meetings & Events, as we plan for a post pandemic world. Recently, I spoke to Steven Pritchard, Assistant Director of Event Sales at the Royal Lancaster about this and why they took the plunge to put a smart studio into their hotel.
“Purely and originally from the hotel’s point of view, it was out of necessity,” explained Steven as we kicked off our conversation. “We were approached by AV supplier, 4Wall and they said to us that looking at the way things are going, this would be a great option as an alternative to live events. I guess what we, as a hotel, did not realise at the time was that this was going to be a long-term project. Originally we thought it would be just for 3 months but clearly that did not end up being the case!”
Understandably, Steven and the Royal Lancaster team, are pleased they invested early and have kept extending to meet demand. For 4Wall, this was something they had been thinking about and doing for a long time before Covid ever came on the scene. Like many others, they had seen the need for this offering growing.
The studio was installed in June of 2020 and the Royal Lancaster started running virtual events straight away. For them, having the product there and being able to just press go has meant that they have been able to keep going with events, within the Government guidelines, throughout.
What does the future look like?
Steven explained that the hotel is doing quite a lot of virtual right now, but with more hybrid booked for July and September. However, he has no doubt it will increase as they start to see some of the pent-up demand for hybrid events coming through. Like others we’ve spoken to, he was positive that it would continue. He went on, “I do think hybrid is here to stay well into 2022. Even with large test events now taking place, there is still uncertainty so hybrid really does offer the best of both worlds. Bearing in mind that people are starting to come around to the idea that you can now reach a much larger audience with this type of event, you are not restricted by the size of the room anymore.”
Virtual certainly has been a game-changer in that respect as it has opened the eyes of many clients as to what can now be achieved. Steven’s experience bears this out as he went on to illustrate.
“All I can say is that with the clients I have spoken to, they have all had great experiences with virtual. By being able to reach out to a much larger audience, it has given them scope to influence many more people, more of their own clients, and a larger external audience too. It’s also helped them gain a wider range of sponsors for their events as they can offer a greater reach.”
For us at BCD M&E in the UK, we are having more and more conversations around how hybrid can play a role with our clients’ plans and it’s no different for Steven. We are also seeing a lot more hybrid enquiries to the end of the year, especially September, October, and November
The evolution of virtual
A true hybrid event is not simply just streaming your live event. At BCD M&E, we understand the need to connect those who are not physically there with the people in the room. We know that hybrid gives you the opportunity to have people from all around the world networking across the virtual and live audiences.
Steven was quick to agree. “People no longer want to be passive viewers, they want to know how they can be part of the event, how they can interact. No one wants to be on a Zoom call for hours just staring at a screen. Technology allows us to do wonderful things. We even have a smart stage where we can insert 3D assets so you can have a car on stage spinning around. Or you can even bring in presenters from the other side of the world and make them look like they are standing on stage next to a real-life presenter.”
While having a studio in the hotel is a great selling point for the Royal Lancaster, Steven was quick to point out that there has been a monumental amount of work going into getting ready to welcome guests back through the doors. From rapid testing to changing the way F&B service is handled, as well as the obvious enhanced hygiene precautions, he is clear that live delegates will be able to return with confidence and enjoy the face to face experience again.
I asked Steven whether he thought the budget required to stage hybrid, needing to cater for the live audience and broadcast to a virtual, would be prohibitive to many?
“Many people think this will be a cheaper option, which it is not,” he explained. “For a typical hybrid event the tech team alone in our hotel will consist of 16 people. Just because you can’t see them does not mean they do not need to be paid for. However, there is an incentive to reach a much larger audience; companies can see the benefits of doings this and the ROI that comes with this.”
This is something I heartily agreed with, as it’s a conversation I have had with many BCD M&E clients. The invisible staff required to deliver a successful hybrid or virtual event is often a bone of contention!
While what the Royal Lancaster has to offer is arguably a solution that is at the top of the scale, the kit alone cost £1.4m to install, it is clearly a premium product. So, if you have the right budget and you want to deliver something special then this is a great option. Having said that, there are always more pared back solutions that offer clients great options both here and at other venues. It all depends what a client wants to achieve and the ROI they enjoy from achieving a wider reach.
For us at BCD M&E, hybrid is an idea whose time has come. People may have needed to go virtual out of necessity but now they have experienced the benefits, it will be a natural progression to continue its inclusion.