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Are hybrid boat shows the way forwards?

by Mark Jardine 2 Mar 2021 20:00 GMT
virtual RYA Dinghy Show © vFairs

I've talked to various people during and since the virtual RYA Dinghy Show and all so far are hailing it as a success. In the UK, the Dinghy Show is the start of the sailing season, and to simply not hold the event would have been a grave mistake, but it took bravery to go ahead with it in a virtual form and careful planning to make it both viable and accessible.

For sure the vfairs platform could do with a bit of polishing to make it more refined: a better system for navigating exhibitors, combining the chat function onto each stand, rather than a separate tab, having videos playing directly on the main stage screen, would have given things more of a show 'feel', but this is nit-picking. The point is it worked with 8,000 people registering, 12,000 logins throughout the weekend and exhibitors reporting good interactions with customers.

Rob Clark, Director of Sport Development at the RYA said:

"It has been great to see the engagement and positivity generated at this year's virtual RYA Dinghy Show presented by Suzuki. Following the UK government's announcement last week, and a sunny weekend for many of us, the response we have received has been one of excitement for what lies ahead and getting back on the water. The virtual Dinghy Show certainly gave a flavour of what we can look forward to and I would like to thank our partners, exhibitors, presenters, and visitors for embracing the event so enthusiastically.

"Obviously, it is very hard to replace the buzz of a face-to-face event, however it has been amazing to have the opportunity to interact with an audience from around the globe and we have had messages of thanks from sailing friends far and wide. The virtual platform will remain available for a month so if visitors missed any of the talks or would like to ask questions of the many exhibitors, they can still do so.

"We are now turning our attention to planning the 2022 Dinghy Show at Farnborough Exhibition Centre [in Hampshire] and making use of the many positive experiences of previous shows as well as this year's virtual event."

I wholeheartedly agree with Rob's statement that it's hard to replace the buzz of face-to-face events, but at times it's simply not possible to be at a show in person, and there are other parts of shows which can be better in a virtual format. My thoughts are that shows, and the exhibitors, could benefit from a hybrid approach, using the best aspects of both a physical and virtual event.

Over the years there have various portmanteaus created such as brunch, alphanumeric and my least-favourite word 'glamping', but a new one that definitely doesn't roll off the tongue is 'phygital'. It's a marketing term that describes blending physical experiences with digital ones, which I sincerely hope doesn't become mainstream, but the concept does have merit.

A show where visitors can enjoy the face-to-face interactions with the exhibitors and watch presentations in person, combined with being able to do both virtually from afar, has the potential to be the best of both worlds. I'm sure some will say that this reduces the incentive to travel to the show in person, which will reduce the footfall, but my thought is that the important metric is the number of people that you can reach in a meaningful way.

An example of virtual success is dinghy historian Dougal Henshall with his Main Stage talk. Dougal is a staple of the Dinghy Show, and during the physical editions of the show every seat is taken, which usually means around 250 people. Due to my schedule, I have very rarely been able to catch his talks in person, but I would dearly like to be able to watch some of his past presentations. This year he discussed 'Seven Dinghies for Seven Decades', outlining the shortlist of designs and his choices for the dinghy of each decade. This virtual presentation has already been viewed by 1,189 people on Youtube and this is sure to grow as we've just published it on YachtsandYachting.com and Sail-World.com in the UK.

Rio 2016 Olympian Ben Saxton and I judged the Concours d'Elegance for boat of the show, which was a fun experience, but was definitely more limited without physically being there to inspect the boats. I was also involved in the commentary for the RYA eSailing Winter Club Championships, which of course was tailor-made for a virtual show. My co-commentator for this was 49er champion Stu Bithell who was in Lanzarote training for the Tokyo Olympics!

The RYA are particularly good at polling visitors to find out what they did and didn't like at each show, and I'm sure this year will be no different, so it will be interesting to see what the consensus is. I applaud the effort that went into the virtual RYA Dinghy Show by all concerned and think it will provide vital data which can be used to improve the accessibility of sailing in years to come.

I believe hybrid physical and virtual shows will be the way forwards, but the experience will need to be honed and a new portmanteau found for them - and please erase the word phygital from your memory. Suggestions on a virtual postcard please to mark@yachtsandyachting.com and my sincere apologies for introducing the term to you at all.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com & YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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