Lessons learnt from first virtual exhibition

The Eastern Cape’s first Virtual Business Exhibition, held on June 23 and 24th, was part of a response to assist Eastern Cape tourism companies in reconnecting and trading. This ‘live’ and interactive trade show was planned by organised business as a COVID relief measure. 250 businesses exhibited their products and services in virtual exhibition halls, connecting with just over 2000 visitors and buyers.

Although some product owners experienced challenges in downloading and operating the Virtual Exhibition application, this pilot virtual exhibition taught us all some valuable lessons.

Sometimes, it takes adverse events to accelerate innovation. This pandemic has accelerated the need for product owners to get up to speed with the new technologies and adjust their marketing approach accordingly. Virtual is here to stay, and those who do not adapt or who do not see the value in upgrading to the latest software will miss out on future opportunities.

This platform allowed visitors to navigate freely through the virtual space, read company profiles, view video reels and visit company websites. There were four expo halls to experience, including the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency Leisure & Tourism Hall, showcasing tourism and the operators in the Eastern Cape. A live chat and email option enabled visitors to make direct contact with the exhibitors.

Sensory, 3D experiences included wine-tasting, a beauty and wellness studio, a coffee bar, the financial couch, a cooking class and entertainment and a 60-minute seminar that included insights into operations during COVID-19 and beyond.

Some of the local tourism product and service owners who profiled their businesses on the new platform, included: JBay Zebra Lodge, Misty Mountain Reserve, Gamtoos Tourism, Baviaans

Camino and Chokka Trail, Jeffreys Bay Tourism, face Adrenalin, Dune Ridge Country House, St Francis Tourism, Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours, Cape St Francis Resort, Tsitsikamma Village Inn, The Village Lodge, Tsitsikamma Manor and Tsitsikamma Tourism Association.

The ECPTA supported the initiative as part of its tourism recovery plan. “Digitalisation is a key pillar of ECPTA’s integrated marketing strategy. Innovations like virtual reality (virtual tours) and augmented reality are resources we are going to utilise more often. It’s a great way to connect our destination to tourists” says CEO Mr Vuyani Dayimani. He adds, “The pandemic we face has brought forth numerous challenges for the tourism sector. But, it has also presented a heightened focus on unlocking innovative ways of economically sustaining the tourism sector. In particular, itsappeal to Generation C – the health-wise and safety-conscious tourist, must not be overlooked moving forward.”

“The Chamber recognises the massive disruption to business and individuals caused by national lockdown due to COVID-19,” says Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber CEO, Nomkhita Mona. Mona is also the Chairperson of the ECPTA Board. “Measures and interventions announced by the government are necessary to curb a widespread outbreak of the virus. It is therefore important for businesses to embrace technology to ensure business continuity where possible.”

As a tourism entity, the ECPTA embraces technological advancement to enhance the visitor experience, and to showcase Eastern Cape offerings to tourists on their smartphones! Tourism product owners must embrace technology as tourists search destinations, book accommodation, review experiences and hail taxis online.

We would all prefer to see big events and conferencing happening as these contribute significantly to the tourism economy. But things will certainly be done a lot different going forward. Hybrid events – small groups physically meet and connect remotely with the bulk of the delegates or audience, will become a reality post COVID-19.