The Death of Online Conferences

I’ve been invited to speak at an industry event that is supposed to be the largest one of the ones that haven’t been cancelled. I.e. it’s kinda a big deal. Everyone I know will speak there (or at least be 15-30 minute attendees). It’s a chance to show the world of travel executives that there are losers and there are losers. Welcome to 2020.

You might’ve figured out that I’m a cynical sceptic, and not because I like saying bad things about good people (I don’t). But I also hate positive thinking (it’s counterproductive) and status quo lovers. Let me explain.

My personal take is that 75% of offline conferences will disappear for good. There are many reasons why, but let me elaborate:

  • 90% of all business development interactions are not adding any meaningful value; they’re pretty much glorified status updates, which can, should and must be done via Zoom. The remaining 10%, however, will raise the status of the conversations, making them more meaningful and personal. Yes, it’s a sacrificial sort of interaction, make sure you understand and value it.
  • I’m cynical about conferences after one instance when I was in a panel on stage and … we had more people on stage than in the audience. It’s a true story and it was an eye-opening experience for me. Needless to say, I want this kind of conferences to die a painful death (thanks to COVID it’s going to occur via a swift coup-de-grace). Long story short: if you’re a decision maker who’s been on the edge of sending your employees to a trade event or somewhere similar – now your answer will be “no way”. And I’m not talking about simplistic leisure trips disguised as business conferences; ITB Berlin, the largest global travel event with 150k+ visitors over the course of a week, is likely to die a painful death because exhibitors will finally understand that they can do better: a) talking to each other during the course of a year, even via Zoom, and not waiting for another 364 days to chat again; and b) finally understand that marketing budgets in 2020+ should be allocated towards anything BUT trade conferences. In the past 3-4 years we’ve had negative ROI from this particular trade event, while our business has been growing 35% YoY.
  • Conferences and trade events have been like waterholes where all animals came to drink without eating each other. The best example of it (again, in travel) is a PhoCusWright conference, which will charge you $3.5k for a ticket if you’re not a speaker and something between $10-20k if you’re a startup looking for attention from industry guys. It’s a fantastic event, I love it wholeheartedly, but… it doesn’t work online at all. Nothing can replace a chance to have gin tonics with the CEOs of your competitors (waterhole, again!), but what if we all start sticking to our wallets and also focus on repairing our businesses and not playing peacocks in front of each other? Maybe we will need a private event instead? To hell with startups (let our corporate guys sort this out), we will only need the suppliers and each others. Just a thought.

Source: Course Notes.

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