Digital and “phygital” events – that combine online and onsite participation – are not new, but have become much more common since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. This transformation of events was the central topic of the 59th ICCA Congress on 2-4 November 2020. Luxembourg was one of the regional hubs of this hybrid event gathering participants from all over the world, and Luxinnovation’s CEO Sasha Baillie gave a keynote address in the session “The Disruption Factor: Digitalisation and Innovation Transformations”.

Transforming events

Sasha Baillie speaking about a potential data-driven events solution in Luxembourg at the 59th ICCA congress“Numerous economic sectors are being fundamentally transformed through digitalisation and use of data,” said Ms Baillie, mentioning industry, mobility, health technologies, logistics, space and finance as examples. “New digital technologies offer fascinating new opportunities for the events industry as well.”

As examples, inspired by the study Innovation Catalogue 4.0 – Future Meeting Space, she mentioned how virtual reality (VR) and artificial reality (AR) can be used to create virtual meeting rooms where participants in different locations interact as if they were in the same physical venue. Another use of VR and AR is “holoportation”, which means that 3D cameras and tracking sensors create 3D models of speakers and give participants in another physical location the impression that they are standing right in front of them. Artificial intelligence can also be used for two-way live translations so that people speaking different languages can communicate instantly through speech.

Digital drivers

While some of this might still sound a bit like science fiction, the more common use of digital technologies and the data generated has already an enormous potential to enhance digital as well as physical events. “A recent study by the Luxembourg Convention Bureau of digital drivers for events notably highlights the importance of digital marketing, which allows reaching larger target groups and providing individuals with relevant information,” said Ms Baillie. “Digital applications can optimise interactions and networking before, during and after an event and help organisers get a better picture of participants’ actual behaviour. This knowledge can, in turn, be used to provide each participant with a tailor-made, personalised experience.”

Digital applications can optimise interactions and networking before, during and after an event.

Another essential driver of this development is the availability of reliable and robust infrastructure that can guarantee the speed and quality of digital interactions. “There is nothing more disturbing than when you have connectivity issues during a virtual meeting or event. During the confinement, we came to realise how fortunate we are in Luxembourg to have a solid data infrastructure,” Ms Baillie pointed out. Stable connectivity is obviously also crucial for an onsite event where participants rely on digital apps for their different activities.

Towards a national digital events tool

The Luxembourg events industry is now exploring the idea of developing a comprehensive digital events tool that would be accessible for all national players. It would offer features such as an events calendar, contact-less payments, simplified travel booking, marketing and post-event activities, and the reservation of bilateral meetings and co-working space. It would also link event participants and organisers with service providers such as hotels, restaurants and transport companies.

Such a tool would also generate valuable data. “If this data is made accessible – obviously in a way that fully respects privacy legislation – the sector could use it to measure the activity and analyse the outcomes of events and anticipate future events. The use of the data could even inspire new business opportunities and models. This is something we are fostering across all sectors of our economy and society,” said Ms Baillie.

Ideal testbed

According to Ms Baillie, Luxembourg is particularly well placed to serve as a testbed for such a country-wide integrated solution that could serve as a model for others. “I’m convinced that we have all the ingredients in Luxembourg to develop and test a tool that could then be shared with other locations across the world. It is possible to connect all the main players in Luxembourg, and we could benefit from already existing digital solutions such as a nation-wide app that provides real-time information on all types of public transport – trains, buses, trams, bike-sharing and electric car sharing. All public transport here is free of charge, and the main cities offer free wifi everywhere.”

Other advantages include consistent government investment into the country’s digital infrastructure, excellent capacities for storing and processing sensitive data and high-level expertise in cybersecurity. Luxembourg has also invested in one of Europe’s high performance computers that will be operational next year.

I’m convinced that we have all the ingredients in Luxembourg to develop and test a tool that could then be shared with other locations across the world.

“Next on our agenda is possibly a national data exchange platform that will facilitate the sharing of data in a secure environment respecting all legal, ethical and commercial agreements. The Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology is planning to create a digital twin of the whole country, a feature that could also be very useful,” Ms Baillie explained. “It is great to see how the events industry has embraced innovation, and we are looking forward to supporting the next steps wherever we can.”

Photo credit: International Congress and Convention Association