How can virtual experiences impact the success of Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) and build digital engagement, both in the wake of COVID-19 and in the long run?
That deceptively complex question was at the heart of a recent virtual panel discussion hosted by event planning resources ConventionSouth and SportsEvents last month. For almost one hour, our CEO Gordon Boyes discussed the matter alongside tech experts from Matterport and Threshold 360 and senior leaders at both Visit Orlando and Discover Long Island.
The dramatic disruption brought about by COVID-19 has made virtual tours a central topic in the event industry. However, the need to provide planners with an alternative to in-person visit goes far beyond the current crisis. What follows is a high-level overview of the discussion.
Virtual Experiences: From Nice-to-Have to Musts for Digital Engagement
A lot can change in just a few years. As multiple panelists mentioned, the efficacy of virtual reality was very much in question just 4-5 years ago. Today, especially for venues looking to book major events, it’s not just par for the course but a central expectation.
Your audiences, whether they be guests at the venue or event planners looking to rent it, are looking for ways to take a first look before scheduling the trip. In the age of COVID-19, that development has accelerated—but it was always there, and moving in this direction regardless.
That evolution is a core underpinning of the discussion surrounding digital experiences and virtual maps. If audiences expect it, your organization will be looked upon to deliver. Visit Orlando, for instance, has taken charge in both funding and organizing these virtual experiences for many of the attractions within its area of responsibility.
The Enduring Need to Cater to Visual Learners
The importance of the virtual experience has a simple reason: the nature of human beings. As our CEO Gordon Boyes described it in the panel discussion,
The big central idea (behind Concept3D) is that people are visual learners. Time and again, brain science has shown us that retention, recall, and the ability to consume a large amount of information in a short period of time is heavily driven by our eyes and what we can see and experience.
In other words, almost every bit of information our brains consume has at least some visual angle to it. So why not build your virtual presence and your efforts to engage with your audience around that visual concept?
That underlying principle has driven Concept3D’s mission for the past decade, and is a major force behind the rapid acceleration of virtual experiences. Today, digital engagement is almost impossible without some type of visual, immersive experience.
The Benefits of Virtual Experiences in the Age of COVID-19
The above, of course, is magnified during a pandemic that has effectively shut down business and leisure travel. A truly immersive experience can effectively replace that in-person preliminary visit, providing a number of benefits in the process:
- Rapid acceleration of technology acceptance. As one of the panelists put it, “people are now buying houses without ever having stepped foot in it.” Being forced to stay at home has allowed us to accept and embrace the technology that replicates in-person experience at a far more rapid pace than would have otherwise been the case.
- Visualization of current and potential spaces. What if you could plan your entire event, convention, or vacation trip from the comfort of your home? The right virtual experiences, it turns out, allow you to do just that.
- An alternative to business travel. Right now, in many states, business travel is close to impossible. Through virtual experiences, it’s no longer necessary, either. Planners and guests/end users alike can virtually ‘visit’ the space without that preliminary visit to get a look of the place.
- New (and improved) collaboration possibilities. Put simply, it’s difficult to explain what a space looks like. It’s much easier to show it, which drastically increases collaboration potential. Especially in a B2B context, but also across industries, showing the space (and even leveraging various content integration possibilities) can be both more time-efficient and successful.
Lasting Advantages that go Far Beyond the Current Crisis
It’s worth bringing up one more time: COVID-19 has put the need for immersive digital experiences front and center. But that need didn’t appear out of nowhere.
It’s easy, for instance, to put a more permanent spin on all the above benefits. Virtual tours can help event and convention planners save on business travel, even if that travel were possible once again. Technology acceptance has been coming, and just accelerated. And of course, the collaboration possibilities ring true regardless of whether remote work is required during a pandemic.
Furthermore, even as in-person site visits become a reality again in the (hopefully) near future, the need for their virtual part doesn’t go away. In fact, digital experiences can live side-by-side with their in-person alternative, providing a comprehensive opportunity for your audience to truly immerse themselves in your space.
The takeaway is clear, both from visitor bureaus and technology providers: virtual experiences are not just beneficial but have become necessary in today’s working environments. Showing off your CVB in a virtual experience for both your business partners and your consumers/visitors is no longer optional; in fact, built the right way, it’s vital for reliable digital engagement.
Building Fully Immersive Experiences for Greater Digital Engagement
So far, we’ve discussed the benefits and necessities of virtual experiences as a whole. At the same time, it’s worth elaborating on the details. Not just any experience will do; for your CVB, it’s vital that the experience be immersive in a way your audience looks for.
That means not just building a digital map or a virtual tour, but combining the two. The map is able to pull in external data such as room information to increase both engagement and functionality. Imagine:
- Visualize how many seats are available at what configuration so that if the configuration changes, the new configuration or set-up is tangible
- Interactive floor plans that allow you to draw curtains or move seating arrangements around as you plan the event.
- The ability to change content based on time settings, including the ability to shift the view from event to event or summer to winter.
- Changing map overlays for different types of events to satisfy a multitude of audiences.
- On-site wayfinding that can be used both for planning the event’s logistics and visitors during the event.
And that’s just the map. The virtual tour, meanwhile, builds the engagement on a more sales-oriented level. It provides a more immersive look at the visuals within the space, combining with the functional elements of the digital map to create a comprehensive experience.
In a best-case scenario, that experience is then further enhanced through supplemental content. That might include 360-degree panorama photos and videos, audio descriptions and narration, embedded YouTube or Vimeo videos, secondary images to show more details of the space, and written descriptions for accessibility. Combine it all, and you get a truly immersive experience that captures your audience and helps them in anything from planning their next major event to dreaming about their trip.
How Concept3D Can Drive Your CVB’s Virtual Experience
None of the above is hypothetical. In fact, it’s all based on the way in which Concept3D has embraced virtual experiences, designed to be leveraged for Convention and Visitors Bureaus. The platform is designed to be highly customizable, fitting perfectly into your business, sales, and planning goals. It acts as a hub for your visual content, bringing it all together to maximize user experience.
Even real-time data is an integration possibility as required. Imagine, for instance, leading a CVB for a major American city and being able to bring in bus traffic for your digital map. The logistical nature of transportation, of course, is just as vital to user satisfaction as the more stylistic flourishes like VR-enabled 360° Tour. Again, it’s the comprehensive nature of it all that makes this opportunity so attractive.
Realizing the visual learner nature of all audiences, we’ve created a platform designed to emulate the real world, and even take it one step further in planning for hypotheticals. Using the digital environment, Concept3D has removed what used to be significant barriers in bringing the spaces you look to promote directly into your audience’s living room.
It’s not restrictive, either. Concept3D is entirely technology-agnostic when it comes to the visual capturing process. We work with a network of photographers who can capture imagery within weeks of the contracts being signed. Alternatively, the venue can capture it themselves and integrate it into the experience. Even platforms like Matterport, a self-capture 3D platform, easily integrates into Concept3D.
Are you ready to learn more? Do you have a tangible need to improve the virtual experience your audiences get when they interact with your CVB? If so, contact us. Let’s talk more about our platform, and how it can help you maximize your opportunities both in the age of COVID-19 and far beyond it.