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Q&A: Hybrid Cities Alliance – what’s it all about?

The launch of the Hybrid Cities Alliance has sets tongues wagging across the meetings industry and piqued the interest of association meeting planners. AMI Editor James Lancaster threw some questions at the heads of the group’s founding members – Glenn Duncan, Ottawa Tourism, Bas Schot, The Hague Convention Bureau, Roman Muska, Prague Convention Bureau and Adrien Genier, Geneva Convention Bureau.

Here’s what came back:

AMI What do you mean by hybrid?

HCA As an industry we have yet to fully define the term hybrid event.  Ongoing lockdowns and limitations around the world mean few large-scale hybrid events have yet to take place.  However, with each new conversation we move closer to finding answers.  Anecdotally the pandemic has seen not just an explosion in digital events but also significant increase in delegate numbers as travel time and expenses disappeared for many attendees.  Our true opportunity for the future is to maintain these numbers – bringing many of our attendees back in the face-to-face environment whilst simultaneously providing digital solutions for those who chose not to attend in person.  Hybrid sits somewhere in the middle – where there was one event before there is now three – face to face, digital and the hybrid joining of the two.  It is perhaps the most exciting time to be working in events, the opportunities are huge and we have a choice to embrace them and look to the future or lose out.  As an alliance we are working together, sharing knowledge and creating what we believe will be a truly long-term solution.

Glenn Duncan

 

AMI Do you see this as a long-term or even permanent project?

HCA Working together and seeking new collaborative solutions will be a permanent way for us to work. The whole industry has seen this over the last 18 months – those that try to go it alone, no matter what sector will ultimately come undone.  As for the current specific make-up of the Hybrid City Alliance, we certainly expect it to exist for the foreseeable future – we must face facts.  At the start of the pandemic, we expected COVID to be a three-month blip – here we are nearly 18 months after the first case was discovered and for many there has been no let-up – the Hybrid City Alliance is here to stay!

AMI What would a multiple city hub event look like?

HCA Simply put, a multiple city hub event is an event designed so that attendees can meet face to face in hubs located in different cities/countries, but all connected via digital platforms.  There is no prescriptive formula to how this works and it will be different for all events.  Some will want separate regional face to face content that is shared global, others might be built on global content and output, another might be focused on facilities of connections and conversation.  It comes down to the individual event and the client’s objectives.

AMI Is this the same as Hub and Spoke? Or could it be that no city is the ‘main’ host?

HCA Multiple city hybrid hub meetings can include, but are not limited to, the Hub and Spoke format, which suggests the main meeting location with satellite hubs in other locations. Other terms used are ‘decentralised’ and ‘satellite’. The role of each hub, whether it is as the main event hub, or as a satellite hub, or all hubs host-sharing, will be determined by the objectives of the event and therefore the design of the event.

For us as the Hybrid City Alliance a key element is to give all the delegates, no matter where they are located, a similar experience.  Hybrid events are not about maintaining one audience divided by distance but using technology to grow audiences and share experiences.  This is a new world for our market, it is continually evolving and more complex than people realise.

Roman Muska

AMI Who would be an association’s first point of contact and who coordinates everything?

HCA Within the Hybrid City Alliance anyone can be a first point of contact.  As mentioned earlier our partners are involved because they trust each other.  If a PCO has a strong relationship with one team in one destination but wants their event to reach further they should start by working with the people they know.  We all prefer to do business with people we like and the Hybrid City Alliance is no different.  Alliance members are like air traffic controllers, pushing the business in the right direction and managing the flow of opportunities – the results flow from there.

AMI How much interest have you had so far?

HCA The industry is buzzing about the concept and we have had a lot of positive feedback from both the supply and demand side of the market.  There is still a lot of worry and fear about how large-scale hybrid events will be delivered because there isn’t yet a comprehensive blueprint for a successful event due to the small number that have taken place so far.  The perception amongst many organisers is that it is a lot of time and effort combined with a lot of risk.  It is why we have to get the value proposition right.  Many organisers risked the integrity of their commercial model by giving attendance to digital event away for free.  That is a hard decision to come back from and one that will make the digital part of the hybrid offering a financial challenge for many going forward.  We have lots of ideas to help clients solve this and help them move forward.

Bas Schot

 

AMI How much planning does the Alliance get involved in? Would associations use their own PCO for example?

HCA The alliance partners are all CVBs and therefore operate much as a CVB would – signposting, connecting and introducing delivery partners.  We can offer support, identify relevant content providers and speakers but ultimately the organisation of the event, the event strategy and its delivery should be done by the organisers and PCOs with the knowledge and skills to do so.

AMI Could this be used for associations looking to connect regional meetings and limit travel – and was sustainability a factor when you came up with the concept?

HCA Limiting travel and the consequent sustainability benefits were not the original intent of the Hybrid City Alliance. However, as something high on the agenda for many organisation holding meetings and conferences around the world sustainability and the benefits of local meetings are certainly something we are highlighting. Sustainable events are not a new concept but the focus and desire for them has grown exponentially over the last year.  Limiting travel distance and cost does however increase the accessibility of events.  The more people that attend, share knowledge and learn the more value people will perceive from event, which in the long term is only a good thing.

AMI Is this an exclusive club – or can anyone join?

HCA It is absolutely not exclusive but there are some criteria that joining cities need to meet.  Ultimately, being like-minded and dedicated to the market, though not a pre-requisite is probably the most important criteria.  We want to build the alliance from trusted destinations with hard working trusted individuals, committed to the industry and ultimately the creation of the best possible delegate and attendee experience.

AMI Are there any extra costs involved in using the Hybrid City Alliance?

HCA For associations and other clients – or the ‘end user’ no. For cities wanting to join the alliance, there is a nominal marketing admin fee but otherwise there is no cost to entry.  Most importantly though we are looking for a human resource and time commitment.  We are looking for our members to become involved and make an effort.  Those that do so will reap the greatest reward.

Adrien Genier

AMI Does the Hybrid City Alliance have its own event platform?

HCA No, we don’t, nor do we expect to.  Across the world we have multiple destinations with access to multiple platform providers.  Much like our attitude to the organisation of the event we don’t feel it appropriate for us to develop a platform.  That decision should be left to the organisers who know what they want and need for their events to be a success.  A key part of the alliance is our ability to bring our local partners on board to deliver all the various elements of an event and ensure they engage with the PCOs to achieve the strategic and logistical goals of any event.

*The Hybrid City Alliance has added Antwerp, Cannes, Durban, Edmonton, Lausanne Montreux, Seoul, Sydney and Zurich to its ranks. They join co-founders The Hague, Ottawa, Prague and Geneva, and expand the Alliance’s reach to five continents.
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