Virtual Trade Shows- Future or Fad?

Earlier this month there was an article in USA Today about virtual trade shows.  The story stated  “With travel budgets deeply slashed across Corporate America, more companies are turning to virtual trade shows to connect with customers and suppliers.”  These shows utilize a variety of technology including webcasting, video streaming, webinars and more to simulate a real trade show with booths, seminars and social “gatherings.”  The virtual-meetings technology companies interviewed stated they’re seeing big demand.

Sure the platforms have an appeal, are definitely trendy and, given the economy, are an attractive alternative, but will they work in the long run?

Last spring the Nielsen’s Council for Research Excellence released research revealing that the average American spends 8.5 hours in front of a screen: computer, TV, cell phone, etc. That’s scary.

In this era of excessive “screen time”, people need to connect and relate one-on-one. You can’t catch subtle nuances, intent and tone from a text message, email or a virtual trade show.  People by nature are social animals so we should reach out for that connection and meetings serve an important role in doing just that.

In person meetings also have great economic value. In September the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) unveiled recent research that documented for every dollar invested in business travel, companies realize US $12.50 in incremental revenue.  In fact, the average U.S. business would forfeit 17 percent of its profits in the first year of eliminating business travel, and it would take more than three years for profits to recover.

According to USTA, business travel in the U.S. is responsible for $246 billion in spending and 2.3 million American jobs; $100 billion of this spending and one million American jobs are linked directly to meetings and events.

So let the virtual business meeting industry float through computers and across the land. It compliments an already important industry, but I doubt it will ever replace it.

John Cooper

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