As the industry begins to return to in-person events, onsite Covid safety and the way it may be facilitated by tech is a hot topic. How are tech providers approaching the next phase of events?
As vaccine rollouts pick up the pace in many regions and many more begin to open up, some planners are optimistically looking at in-person event programs for the second and third quarters of 2021. However, vaccine efficacy expectations are changing and not all attendees will necessarily be required to get one. Onsite Covid safety is still very much a concern.
Event tech has played an instrumental role in the survival of the event industry throughout the last 13 months, and providers are once again leading the pack to facilitate the return of safe in-person events. Innovation has already begun to help event organizers screen and track attendees onsite, and many providers are partnering with hotel chains or large-scale event production companies to demonstrate safe models for meetings and events.
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EventMB spoke with five major event tech players to find out how they are planning to support the challenges around maintaining Covid safety throughout the industry's return to in-person events.
How Are Tech Providers Thinking About Covid Safety?
Jim Sharpe, CEO of Aventri, is "confident that technology is paving the way for a safe comeback to live events" and shares that Aventri is committed to investing in onsite safety tech, which may take several forms. Sharpe notes that Aventri is pursuing both “innovations that we create through our own development roadmap” and partnerships with existing safety-oriented tech and services to “provide a more holistic safety capability."
Leveraging partnerships as part of a more holistic strategy is an approach also being taken by MeetingPlay, says founder Joe Schwinger, which is also seeking opportunities to work with third parties and integrate with existing tools to be able to provide more robust safety solutions.
There is also the question of how much onus should be put on venues rather than tech providers to offer some of the safety protocols that planners will require. Bob Vaez, CEO of EventMobi, believes that "some this tracking and control needs to take place at the venue level because they are the owners of the infrastructure," especially when it comes to hardware, such as tech for temperature checks or anything that might use RFID or beacon technology for crowd control or contact tracing.
He adds that there needs to be "a balance between event planners and venue owners and a clear notion of who is doing what." Venues, for example, will be better informed on the most up-to-date local regulations and should look to offer guidance to planners.
Julius Solaris, head of engagement at Swapcard (and former editor in chief of EventMB), emphasizes the importance of avoiding redundancy in the safety features provided by venues and planners and centralizing the technology as much as possible. An effective setup could be venues providing testing infrastructure and sending data to the event app, but adding an extra clearance point managed by the venue will lead to a poor experience for attendees upon arrival.
Covid Safety Features in Development
Some of the tools that will be important at Covid-safe events are existing features that inherently help manage risk. For example, event apps help minimize fomite transmission by enabling organizers to provide information without the need to distribute physical pamphlets or other materials, while Q&A features eliminate the need to pass a mic around the room.
In terms of dedicated Covid safety features that are currently in development, many fall into the following categories:
PREPPING FOR A SAFE EVENT
McNeel Keenan, vice president of product management at Cvent, explains that part of Cvent's initiative to provide Covid safety solutions includes features that planners can begin utilizing in advance of their event.
With that in mind, they've added venue filters within the Cvent Supplier Network to give planners the ability to search based on capacity, outdoor space, etc. In addition, their Event Diagramming tool allows planners to take 3-D virtual tours and "map out custom-distanced floor plan layouts to plan attendee flow and placement of cleanliness kiosks and sanitation stations."
Once onsite, minimizing contact between people will be key. At Informa's recent event, Aventri provided digital badges that allowed attendees to check-in and exchange information in a touchless manner throughout the event.
Keenan shares that Cvent has implemented a similar feature with their event app, which can provide digital badges to attendees that allow them to check in and print their badge at the OnArrival kiosk "without touching anything besides their own mobile device."
EventMobi highlights that a live support feature can be helpful in minimizing contact with staff onsite. Using this feature attendees can connect with a support agent either through chat or a video call, and get help from wherever they are without needing to queue at a help desk and come into close contact with staff or other people who need information.
In addition, Vaez recommends using the event app to implement pre-set agendas and encourage attendees to book networking meetings in advance so that they know exactly where they need to go at all times and can minimize time spent wandering around.
Indeed directing attendees and eliminating the accumulation of people in entrances and other traffic bottlenecks is a key strategy for limiting opportunities for transmission according to a German study late last year. This was a key part of MeetingPlay's Connect With Confidence program, which was developed in partnership with Marriott. Using the seat selector feature, attendees were able to choose their seats in advance and were given clear directions via the app and venue signage.
Data and information collection is another key area in enhancing attendee safety. Data must be collected before, during, and after the event to ensure that attendees are adhering to safety guidelines and to be able to track and alert attendees who may have been exposed.
Cvent, for example, has built features to "collect every attendee interaction throughout the event to allow for better insights into session participation, appointments, exhibitor interactions, distancing potential in meeting rooms, and overall attendance," according to Keenan. "This way, if an illness were to be reported later, organizers would be able to narrow down primary locales or interactions of concern to gauge potential spread."
EventMobi also allows planners to add information to attendees' profiles within the event platform that only they can see. This allows planners to input data such as attendees' vaccination status, temperature, etc. along with the rest of the attendee's information, which could theoretically help to qualify the level of risk for any given exposure.
Other tools are also in development to assist with keeping track of attendee health data, such as VOW Digital Health. The app aims to verify attendees' test results or vaccination status in order to give them the greenlight to attend an event — essentially the concept of a digital Covid passport.
Event Tech Challenges in Supporting Onsite Safety
Independent digital Covid passport tools like this will likely become more commonplace; the European Union is now evaluating whether to implement a “Digital Green Certificate” to that end. These may make things more complicated for both planners, who will have to manage it in addition to their main event platform, and attendees, who will need to download and keep track of multiple apps and notifications.
Another challenge is the issue of adoption by attendees. Both Vaez and Solaris point out that several contact tracing apps have been developed around the world to help fight the pandemic, but they've struggled with very low adoption, partly due to privacy concerns.
The technology is already built out, but according to Solaris, "the communication system is where the flaws are right now." The key to using these technologies will therefore be to figure out an effective way to get attendees to consistently and proactively report any potential exposures or positive tests.
Another complication is the innumerable variables that exist when it comes to local regulations. As Vaez puts it, "I don't think there's any event tech that's going to claim that they can adhere to all the local laws globally. It's impossible." He notes that providers will need to focus on general safety features, as mentioned above, that will address common health and safety regulations.
"The level of integration probably won't be as deep. If there are a million different apps, and all the data is proprietary within them, what you can expect is a link to whatever passport app has been indicated by the planner or the country."
- Julius Solaris, Head of Engagement, Swapcard
The key, according to Schwinger, is to employ a design technology in a way that allows it to adapt to customers' unique needs. He relates the current predicament to the way event tech had to respond to GDPR and takes a similar approach to adapting to varying local regulations and requests.
Event tech has experienced growth and innovation at an unprecedented rate over the past year. Tech providers are keen to continue to support the industry in this next phase of events, which will surely require robust Covid safety tech and infrastructure.
Onsite Covid safety tech is still in its early stages, and there are several challenges that are still being addressed, but further innovation in the coming months is certain.