The hospitality and events industry is moving away from digital conferencing and returning to in-person events.

South Africa’s once booming MICE industry was reduced to a virtual lull following the onset of COVID-19 but, after two long years under varying levels of lockdown and plenty of voices rising up to call for an end to restrictions, conferencing and events are growing in popularity.

“We’re seeing people returning in full force to the events scene, excited to see their colleagues again and feel some sense of normalcy after a long time,” says COO at The Capital Hotels and Apartments, Garnet Basson. “The fear people felt about leaving their homes seems to be lifting. Vaccinations are on the rise and people are now looking for work and play experiences as part of their conferencing packages.”

The shift has a lot to do with virtual fatigue, or what has become known as ‘Zoom Fatigue’, following the lockdowns that restricted people’s movements and prohibited large scale in-person meetings and events. Other than eventgoers suddenly feeling all dressed up with nowhere to go, virtual conferencing took a mental toll too. 

One study pointed to the unnatural manner in which attendees are required to interact with and react to one another over video chats, compared to regular face-to-face interaction, and how this is just one of the factors that has contributed to people’s digital exhaustion. 

“While virtual conferencing did save the day for the events industry in many cases, it’s simply not the same as being there and connecting on a human and interpersonal level,” says Basson. “When people are together in a room or socialising at an event, they have the opportunity to engage with one another and make meaningful connections, not to mention have a whole lot more fun than staring at a screen for hours.”

And as businesses increasingly look to adopt hybrid work models, including in-person meet-ups and events as part of the hybrid mix is an essential component, especially when it comes to the all-important rebuilding of company culture.

Events in a post-pandemic era

Conferencing is shaping up to look a little different to what it did two years ago. Having learned a great deal of best practices from virtual and hybrid events, planners are equipped with valuable insights into creating memorable, enjoyable events for attendees.

Some of the elements that turned out to be quite successful in making virtual conferencing more of a positive experience during the pandemic included specially packed three-course dinners, games, lively entertainment and follow-along activities for attendees to enjoy.

As in-person events gain traction again, planners are opting for modern, fully equipped multi-scalable venues that allow for the inclusion of these elements as part of conferencing packages. This allows people to balance work and play, and often stay, with companies booking their employees into hotels for overnight stays to relax and unwind once work is done.

“Many businesses have done away with costly office spaces in favour of remote and hybrid work, so we have seen an influx of people into our conference rooms who are looking to connect. There’s been a huge uptick in post-conference team-building sessions too – people are starting to let their hair down and have fun again, going for a dip in the pool, enjoying a drink or two at the bar with colleagues and winding down with relaxing spa treatments after hours. From an events perspective it’s been wonderful to see,” adds Basson.