The future of conferencing

Face-to-face conferencing is making a comeback


By Sam Massimov, MD of Premier Hotels



Virtual conferencing holds a great many benefits outside of the obvious Covid-19 safety factors. From a lower carbon footprint to cutting down on travel logistics and costs; more efficient time-usage by speakers and better focus by breakaway groups.

Overall, corporates largely remain cautious of big events, conference gatherings and many prefer the hybrid approach – with training and meetings taking place online or at their offices. This is expected to improve markedly in the second half of the year – notwithstanding the current energy crisis and their need to rebuild and strengthen their teams, exchanging ideas in person and building new networks.

That being said, out of all the feedback we’ve received from return conferencing clients and from personal experience in the space, we can safely say that live conferencing is still superior.

Forward pipelines are still not as robust as 2019 but we are extremely encouraged by the demand for our flagship ELICC and Premier hotels in East London. We also welcome an upsurge in sport, Association and NGO business which is encouraging.

International incentives and groups continue to lag due to restricted airline capacity and other country COVID travel restrictions – with the major nodes of Sandton, Durban and Cape Town still to recover properly.

Exactly when we will once again be able to host ‘bigger’ face-to-face conferences in our venues, remains to be seen. So here are a few things to consider when it comes to conferencing in the short- to medium-term future:

Innovation is key

If COVID has taught us one thing, it is to innovate. Those entrepreneurs, brands and businesses who are adaptable, dynamic and innovative despite the past 18 months (or because of it) are the ones that will thrive, now and in the future.

Much like the live entertainment industry (we’re not talking about ‘regular’ business meetings here – a clear distinction needs to be made between conferences and business meetings) the conference sphere was forced to go virtual – moving to video-chat screens, with digital presentations and typed, chat-style Q&A sessions. Those companies that managed to do this in the most user-friendly and engaging ways are the ones that will (and have to date) garnered the most engagement from their dignitaries.

Smart use of technology

There is a wealth of conferencing technology and apps out there and the quality of the voice and video imaging continues to improve. Being able to follow crisp, clear presentations in real-time is why conferencing is back in demand. In addition to the face-to-face sessions, there will be digital recordings so that delegates can revisit the sessions post event, and it offers the opportunity for experts to dial in from all over the world. Venues have geared up to meet all these factors.

Around the water cooler

One of the biggest benefits of ‘traditional’ (face-to-face) conferencing is the off-the-mic time. The networking, team-building and impromptu strategy sessions that happen away from the structured sessions. This is simply not possible in the virtual realm. Not on the same level of depth, anyway.

Hybrid or bust

It is from the learnings of that event and others in the conferencing and entertainment space (and from the current remote-working philosophy of day-to-day business) that it is also likely we will see a ‘hybrid’ model of sorts going forward. A model that incorporates both physical and virtual aspects. The ‘best of both’ if you will.