Hamburg's VRtual X bringing trade fairs to internet

12 August 2020
Hybrid events trending and offer plenty of advantages

"Hybrid trade fairs and congresses are the future," according to Tim B. Frank, joint founder of VRtual X launched with Matthias Wolk in 2017. The demand for their services is great, he noted. "Organisers have been mulling alternatives for their events in the coming year since talk of a second corona wave began," said Frank. This could mean a shift to the internet and hybrid variants, i.e. a mix of presence and online event, which are trending at the moment.

Record events prior to corona

VRtual X has chosen its business field well. Events are a promising market and set a new record in 2019, according to the Meeting & EventBarometer 2019/2020: "Around 423 million people attended meetings, congresses and events at German venues - an increase of 2.7 per cent over 2019 and a new all-time high. The number of events remained constant at 2.89 million compared to 2018."

Growing interest in online trade fairs

The corona-induced halt to major events has sparked interest in other kinds of online events. "Until the beginning of March 2020 - before the corona crisis hit Germany - only 27 per cent of providers had considered hybrid and spatial events to be trend-setting. After March 9, 2020, this figure rose to 60 per cent," according to a study by the European Institute for the Meetings Industry (Europäische Institut für TagungsWirtschaft GmbH).

360° technology for reaching large target groups

VRtual X relies on 360° technology to host virtual events. The Hamburg-based startup is exhausting its technical possibilities including avatars and other virtual reality applications to reach the largest possible target group. "The technical hurdle for 360° technology is almost zero," said Frank. "VR equipment is not required and 360° technology even runs on a ten-year-old operating system. Anyone can use it - even target groups who are not very familiar with the internet." Although the immersive feeling wanes in comparison to a complex VR world, 360° technology can make the main contents of trade fairs and congresses tangible. 

Dynamics of online trade fairs akin to reality 

"We can tailor events to customers' specifications and design exhibition halls or congress halls in a conservative style or with applications for a young and tech-savvy target group to achieve greater interaction," Frank explained. Trade fair stands can be staffed by a company's employees, who answer visitors' questions in a video chat. Depending on the customer's wishes, advertising and videos can be included and speakers switched on. "We copy the real world," said Frank, and the same dynamics are at work in the virtual sphere. Stands positioned at the front are heavily frequented while those at the back are less frequented. "But we use algorithms to raise the visibility of smaller companies' stands and to be better found by their target group," he added. 

Plenty of advantages to forward-looking events 

Online events can cut costs significantly. "Apart from lower admission fees, visitors save on travel and accommodation costs and on time," Frank stressed. Delegates spend hours instead of days at a trade fair or congress. The organizer can sell twice as much advertising space for hybrid events. Frank expects an even keener adaptation to delegates' needs in future depending on whether a visitor requires general or more detailed information about an event. However, this hinges on the availability of personal data, which can be collected at registration and on a voluntary basis.

Hamburg as a VR centre

Delegates at trade fairs will eventually don VR headsets and use controllers during their visit in future, Frank anticipated. "Virtual and augmented reality have a great future, but the technology has not yet reached the general public." This is likely to change when more people immerse themselves in virtual worlds. "Around 90 per cent of first-time users have a positive experience. This increases understanding and willingness to embrace new technologies." 

Hamburg offers the right framework conditions for driving VR technologies ahead. "Hamburg is Germany's VR capital. Berlin, Munich and Cologne are also attractive, but there is a greater density of players, initiatives and funding in Hamburg," Frank stressed. The interplay of immersive media i.e. VR, AR, 360° technology and holograms holds clear potential for growth and more players. Fear of competition is unfounded, he pointed out. "Our competitors' success is good for everyone, because it advances the subject." The more the merrier!

Sources and further information

Hybrid event: Paris Real Estate Week

Hamburg is debuting at the Paris Real Estate Week from September 14-17, 2020 where the main focus will be on liveable cities of the future and how public and private urban developers meet this challenge. The main themes are sustainability, transport, governance, economic development, planning and infrastructure – issues that have become even more palpable amid the corona crisis. The Paris Real Estate Week is a hybrid of trade fair, conference and online event, and emerged after MIPIM, which is normally held in Cannes every spring, was postponed.

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