Convention Centers Invest in Hybrid Offerings as Events Resume

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Over the past few months, different types of venues – from hotels to fully custom studios – have built up their virtual and hybrid offerings to meet planners’ needs as they navigate a rapidly changing event landscape. Convention centers around the country are no exception, as they look to provide options for planners considering a virtual component for their upcoming events.

Jay Burress, President & CEO of Visit Anaheim, which books groups for the Anaheim Convention Center, shares that when the events industry started discussing hybrid events as a way to come back from the pandemic, his organization began to prepare in order to be able provide the solutions and options that planners would be looking for.

“We wanted to offer a couple of different technologies,” he says. “One is through our convention center, which is a mobile studio that can move to different areas of the building. So if an event is taking place in Hall A or Hall E, they can have the mobile studio right there to show the action on the floor or however they want to do it.”

For upcoming events, the Visit Anaheim team now asks event organizers whether they’re considering a hybrid event or a virtual component in order to match them with the best solution, which is “a question we didn’t ask a year and a half ago,” says Burress.

The mobile studio at the Anaheim convention center is run by Encore, which provides the tech and production support for virtual and hybrid events using the mobile studio. Visit Anaheim has also been connecting planners with a local production studio, VCI Events, as a second option to host more robust virtual components.

“Most of the events we're talking to that are coming up in the fall are considering both options,” shares Burress. “And I think we'll see that for a while, as the meetings and conventions industry comes back to life.”

Similarly, Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center has been outfitted with a fully-fledged broadcast studio, the Avenida Houston Virtual Studio, to “give event planners even more flexibility in how they operate their conventions,” says Michael Heckman, Acting CEO & President of the Houston First Corporation.

The convention center was also the first in the country to implement Medistar Corp’s biodefense air filtration system to allow for the safe return of in-person components. The Avenida Houston Virtual Studio has the capacity to host a live audience if desired, and also provides varying levels of production support depending on the planner’s needs.

“Hybrid events are here to stay,” says Heckman. “We don’t believe they replace in-person meetings, but they will be a component going forward. That’s why we developed our virtual studio inside the George R. Brown Convention Center that can hold live-stream events. It will be an opportunity — if organizers do it the right way — to reach more people.”

The outlook for both destinations is positive for the next several months, signaling that in-person meetings and conventions are starting to make their comeback, although Burress notes that many will likely have fewer in-person attendees than they did prior to the pandemic.

However, Anaheim is “definitely seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” with several groups booked through the end of the year, and 2022 filling up with events that had to cancel last year and are rescheduling.

Meanwhile, Houston is “preparing for a bumper second half of 2021, with a record amount of conventions already scheduled,” shares Heckman. Of the 32 events that Houston First has scheduled for the remainder of the year, “31 of these events have an attendance of 1,000+ and are considered Impact Events, acting as demand drivers for area hospitality businesses.”