Virtual expo to ride Rugby World Cup wave

Virtual Expos to set up business central for Rugby World Cup

While Prime Minister John Key plans “party central” on the Auckland waterfront for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Wellington company Virtual Expos is setting up “New Zealand business central”.

A web-based virtual exhibition called ExpoNZ will showcase the best of this country, according to spokeswoman Frances Manwaring.

ExpoNZ is planned as “the place interested people can visit to connect with New Zealand businesses”, Manwaring says. Seizing the international spotlight that will be shining on New Zealand before, during and after the World Cup the virtual environment, “will enable New Zealand to engage with people all over the world, not just the 60,000-plus people who are actually projected to come here”.

The virtual environment will be fully developed by the beginning of 2011, says HP/EDS strategic sourcing consultant Sarah Lock. “We are in discussion with key groups involved with creating a lasting legacy from hosting this event and the levels of support we’ve received so far have confirmed that it is a concept people will get behind.”

Virtual Expos is looking to establish a local foothold in what is predicted to be a major international business.

An online virtual conference and exhibition saves attendees’ travel-time and fares, and allows a broader range of visitors from all over the world. Visits to the event can be made when convenient and interleaved with other work, so attendees do not have to spend a day or more away from the office.

Virtual Expos’ first event, a job fair, was conducted in mid-July and attracted participation by major companies such as HP, Endace and Datacom. “We had keen interest from both local and offshore expo attendees, which has led to many ongoing relationships that we anticipate will show a positive return,” Lock says.

Real time conversations over video, audio or text are “hugely valuable when recruiting, as well as helping to build the business brand,” she says.

An online conversation does not offer all the benefits of a face-to-face interview and at first seems a little odd, she says, but as business gets used to the technology, the environment will become more accepted.

Speakers at the fair included Brett O’Riley from industry association the NZICT Group and software developer Josh Waihi, winner of the IT Rockstar contest.

The virtual expo application provides for simulated exhibition stands or offices with interactive video, allowing visitors to speak with vendors displaying their wares.

Conference speaker sessions via video are scheduled, but can be recorded for the benefit of visitors not able to participate at the scheduled time.

For the exhibitor, automated analysis will supply more in-depth information about visitors to the event, such as what they looked at, than is normally available from a physical exhibition says Virtual Expos vice-president Marie-Claire Andrews.

Organisers of virtual events also stand to gain “social responsibility” kudos for saving energy and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Networking spaces can be provided for delegates to chat with one another.

The virtual conference business is set to grow in the US. Despite the economic downturn “it’s estimated that by 2011 there will be 100,000 virtual events every year,” Andrews says.

The US trade-show market is a $100 billion business, she says. “Last year, virtual events accounted for only 1 percent of that. By 2015 the estimate is that it will be about 25 percent.”

There are eight US-based companies in the virtual events market and “bucketfuls” of venture capital being poured into the business, she says. Virtual Expos is in the market for investment. Conferences planned next year include a second careers fair and an adjunct to the Wellington to the World (W2W) event, organised by Unlimited Potential to pitch New Zealand ICT developments.

Besides completely virtual events, there is a lot of opportunity for the virtual channel to complement a physical event, Andrews says.

The quality of broadband to and from New Zealand might be seen as a handicap for a virtual event business based here, Andrews says, and this is of concern.

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