Virtual Expo II Enters Crucial Analysis Period
After months of promotion and preparation, the live portion of Virtual Outdoor Hospitality Expo II came to a close on Friday (Nov. 11). When asked how it went, show producer Art Lieberman remarked, “It’s not over yet, we still have 58 days to go – in on-demand.”
He notes that with nearly 300 unique attendees, the numbers are better than last year’s Virtual Expo – even without a big name keynote speaker opening the session – and are expected to continue to grow.
Lieberman will be sending a survey to attendees next week to gather feedback and gauge attendee satisfaction. The attendees and exhibitors interviewed for this article were all emphatic about one thing: the concept.
“A virtual conference in and of itself is amazing. The virtual environment simply blew me away,” said Gina Hole, social media/marketing manager for Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Fremont, Ind. Hole was not able to attend the virtual show last year and was delighted to be able to do so this year, a week before the annual LSI/Yogi Symposium, from the comfort of her office sans travel hassle and expense. Interested in a particular company’s product, her request for information was followed up in less than 20 minutes by a company rep.
“There’s a definite place for these types of events in our industry,” remarked Phil Ingrassia, vice president of communications for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). “Much like a physical show, attendees need time to take in the environment, get the lay of the land and figure out where things are. While virtual shows will never replace a live event, they are a complimentary way to offer web-based learning experiences to our industry.”
A virtual show producer of sorts in his own right, Ingrassia headed a virtual event for RVDA earlier this year. After perusing the Virtual Outdoor Hospitality Expo, he was impressed with the number of exhibitors and found the software user-friendly. Attending a session on private/public park strategy left Ingrassia with a number of take-aways to share with his association members.
Second-year virtual show attendee Randy Hendrickson, president of Horizon RV Resorts, is a tremendous fan of the virtual platform but remarked upon some technical limitations of this year’s software. A self-described “tech-junkie,” Hendrickson spoke of a missing link between the registration phase and the Expo opening, and felt a walk-through user tutorial would have served the attendees and the exhibitors well.
After entering and exploring several booths, Hendrickson was surprised – and a little disappointed – to not be acknowledged by even one booth personnel. “I very much want this to succeed so spent time at several exhibitor booths but, frankly, if I was not hugely interested in the virtual show concept I would have bugged out in 30 seconds,” he said.
Still, Hendrickson believes in the promise and future of virtual expos with the right technology and notes we’re just not there yet.
Case-in-point, he brought it all back to the purpose of attending (and exhibiting) with what he called the “everything factor of one” noting that one connection, one meeting, one relationship gained makes it worthwhile. Last year, as a result of attending the Virtual Expo, Horizon RV Resorts developed a working relationship with a key industry vendor, making all the technical headaches very much worth it.
Scott Foos is Horizon RV Resort’s vice president of development and took the opportunity to attend an educational session. Though he reported no technical issues in watching the session, he wished it were more personalized for the event as opposed to the “off the shelf” feel and commented on the challenge of interacting with the speaker during the Q&A period.
Backend Gets Mixed Reviews
As for exhibitors, the backend of the software got less than enthusiastic reviews. Kenneth Lawrence, co-owner/production, Yurts of America, was on the fence about exhibiting at the Virtual Expo from the get-go. “I felt the promotion for the event was strong and that selling even one yurt – a big-ticket item – would make the show beneficial for us,” said Lawrence.
His praise for show software VCopious’ support team was ebullient but the software performance left plenty to be desired.
“The technology was tough. The chat feature was located in a less than desirable place on the screen, making it very difficult to catch attendees’ attention. When a chat was initiated, the popup alert box disappeared too quickly and there was no audio ping alerting exhibitors that someone had entered their booth. Unless the vendor was watching the attendee screen constantly, they ran the risk of missing a prospect.
Exhibitors were in concert with the less than stellar “business card” function designed to collect leads to be followed up on after the live show closed. Functionality of this piece of the software on Day 1 was limited. By the end of Day 2, information delivered to vendors about their booth visitors had improved slightly. For an exhibitor like Lawrence, the lack of detailed contacts makes the exercise futile.
Chat was also an issue for Pamela Wright, owner of Focused Words. “Coming into the Virtual Expo for the first time from a live trade show exhibitor background, I had certain interaction expectations. Without physical presence, it’s hard to know whether booth visitors are not interested in responding, the software is experiencing a system issue or it’s a training issue for attendees,” she noted. “Next year I’ll approach it from more of a social media standpoint.”
Asked if she’d do it again she said “absolutely.” Wright has made a number of contacts and believes in this technology. “I want this to work; we’re just getting past the growing pains.”
“Kudos to the organizers and exhibitors of this year’s Virtual Outdoor Hospitality Expo,” added Ingrassia. “If we, as an industry, don’t try new things, we can stagnate. I’m thankful they took this leap of faith – they’re pioneers.”
The buzz from exhibitors to attendees – and most likely the producers and software provider – is next year a live dry run on both the frontend and the backend of the virtual show will be mandatory.
And to the question of “next year,” Lieberman is taking a wait-and-see approach. He’s a true believer in this technology and has a clear vision of how it benefits the industry in both good and bad economic times. But next week’s survey results and the on-demand performance will offer great insight…something I’m certain he’ll gladly share with you if you stop by his LSI/Yogi Symposium or ARVC Expo booths later this month.