Let’s start the virtual show!

Organiser Khaled Eid discusses Viritx.com - the region's first virtual exhibition and conference for the ICT sector

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By  Vineetha Menon Published  February 17, 2009

Say ‘virtual reality’ (VR) and most would think of the millions enjoying a Second Life online but, over the last few years, that same technology has made remarkable inroads in the corporate events industry.

Technology leaders including Intel, IBM and AMD have all hosted virtual events to target a wider reach and save on costs. Riding this wave, the Middle East will now be hosting Viritx.com – the first virtual exhibition and conference for the region’s ICT sector from May 19 – 21.

We speak to Khaled Eid, managing director of the World Development Forum and organiser of Viritx.com, to find out why he’s confident the concept will take off regionally and his response to rumours that the Viritx.com event is the virtual equivalent of Gitex.

What is your opinion on the adoption of virtual reality technology by businesses?
Virtual reality is becoming the future; not just in the entertainment domain but also in the business domain. It all started with entertainment sites like Second Life where most of the big giants have a presence from IBM to Mercedes to Microsoft. It proved to be a successful formula to engage customers from different locations and backgrounds on a single platform. This is also driving the meetings industry i.e. tradeshows, conferences and corporate events as they are all now moving towards VR.

What are the benefits of VR in the meetings industry?

Research shows that the cost per visitor in virtual trade shows is 35 dollars compared to 212 dollars in traditional or physical tradeshows. For physical events you need a lot more resources – people involved in the project, designing and developing brochures, following up on logistics, arranging visas and travel and so on. In virtual events, you don’t need to allocate these resources because there is no travel or logistics involved.
Also, in physical trade shows people spend a lot of time analysing leads such as screening and sorting business cards and filling out different forms, but virtually all of this is done automatically. You get a metrics that shows you how many people attended your session, at which time, what documents they’ve downloaded and even chatting scripts with stand representatives are recorded. It’s a very powerful marketing tool.

Can you give us an example of the effectiveness of virtual events?
AMD created a virtual event 18 months ago; it’s evergreen so it’s still open. Today, they have achieved 1.7 million visitors. This number has never been achieved by any physical tradeshow. There was research that indicated that what you do in a 3 day tradeshow or conference can be done virtually in three hours.

What about Viritx.com?

Generally VR events go live for three days like any event, and during the live period there is full interaction between the exhibitors, speakers and visitors. After that it goes into an extended period where you can see all the content like it is during the live period, except for the chatting capabilities.
There is no Arabic support for this event. I don’t think there’s a real need for Arabic support for the first event because English is mostly used in the IT community, even for Arabs like myself.

Who designed and developed the platform?

It’s based on Web 2.0 technology that enables interaction between people live. The 3D environment gives you the feeling of any tradeshow and, in addition, you have chatting capabilities. The platform is developed by one of the biggest and oldest companies for developing virtual events in the States. They’ve launched virtual events for AMD, Cisco, Intel and others.

Is it similar to Second Life in terms of usability?
There’s a difference between Second Life and virtual events. SL takes a long time to register and you need to create an avatar before you can go and explore, but in virtual events you don’t need to do any of that. You need to register like in any newsletter by typing in your name, title, email address, telephone number, and then you have access to the event where everything is done with a mouse click. There is no avatar and you don’t need to create a personality.
The design gives you the feeling of the event – we can hear sounds in the background, people talking; just like the noise you hear in any tradeshow.

What are the technical limitations involved?

Dial-up users will find it a little difficult because of the rich media like videos but they will have no issues with the exhibition, interaction or chatting. The platform has its own compression software that reduces the size of any media up to 80% so even with the most basic DSL or broadband it works fine. The platform is hosted in a huge data centre in the States and the bandwidth is scalable to the number of visitors. It can take up to 50,000 visitors at any given time.

What is the level of interest you’ve witnessed so far?
We designed the platform to occupy up to 500 exhibitors and the conference centre has the capacity to hold up to120 different presentations around 20 minutes each. We have very positive expectations – almost 99% of the companies that we spoke to are interested to participate and are now assessing the level of participation such as the size of their stand, sponsorship, conference participation, etc.
We’re also working with ICT organisations to participate by sharing the information and knowledge they have in this area.

It almost seems like a virtual Gitex…

Many people ask if we’re competing with Gitex but it’s complementary. I don’t think there is any new media that replaces traditional media. There are some companies that might find Viritx more effective while other companies might find Gitex or CeBIT more beneficial.

Do you think virtual events will gradually replace physical exhibitions?

Some events will be replaced by virtual events. This year at MacWorld there were a lot of comments from analysts who said that it should be a virtual event and shouldn’t be a physical event anymore. It depends on the situation, region and number of events in the region.
Major companies will not cancel physical events completely and just rely on virtual events, but they see it as a fantastic opportunity. For example, we’re talking to a number of major IT companies here who are now looking at developing their own exclusive virtual events.
I don’t prefer the word ‘replace’ but it’s a new medium and the region will take advantage of it very soon.

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