Going Virtual: The future of events or a relic from lockdown?

Before lockdown, virtual events had a cult following, but were generally less popular than in-person events. Then, when the pandemic forced event organisers to find non-physical event alternatives, the virtual format offered a much-needed lifeline.

As the UK emerges from lockdown and restrictions are completely lifted, it would be fair to assume virtual events would tail off and die. However, we can see clearly that virtual events, along with hybrid events, have kept their newfound popularity and maintained a strong presence in the ‘restrictionless’ present.

So, why do organisers hold virtual events in such high esteem and why should you run virtual events even now lockdown is over?


According to Canadian millionaire and businessman, Robert Herjavec, “Cash is the lifeblood of your business”. Whilst money isn’t everything, if you aren’t making any, your company is dead in the water. Hence, the financial benefits that virtual events offer may well be the key to their ongoing popularity.

Conferences, exhibitions and other professional events can be very expensive, both for attendees and organisers. Those participating in the event must pay for petrol if travelling by car, or purchase a bus, train or plane ticket. This can put off a lot of attendees, especially combined with the price of accommodation and an event ticket. Likewise, organisers must consider the cost of booking a venue, decorating the event space, catering for attendees and more, not to mention the hours of work required to put it all together.

Virtual events can be up to 75% cheaper to run than in-person events.

Attending and organising virtual events is simpler and cheaper. All attendees require to attend is a computer, webcam and microphone – a vanishingly small investment compared to attending a physical event. Similarly, organisers need only partner with a suitable event solutions specialist to create a virtual event platform, saving a considerable sum of money. Virtual events can be up to 75% cheaper to run than in-person events.


The average trade show can generate the equivalent of 170 trees worth of paper waste, with each attendee taking home around 10 pounds of paper. The deforestation required to produce this paper, which is often thrown away or left behind at the event, is incredibly wasteful and ecologically irresponsible. By running virtual events, organisers can eliminate the need for paper handouts, greatly improving sustainability.

Likewise, the amount of electricity required, not only to run but to attend a physical event, can be massive. The average hotel room will use 50 kWh per day, so 1000 attendees staying one night in a hotel to attend an event will consume 50,000 kwh of power. This is more than 7 times the electricity used by one UK household in a year (7100 kWh). This is before we even consider the power required to light and heat an event venue. Comparatively, a desktop computer would require just 0.18kWh for attendees to participate in a 6-hour virtual event.

As virtual events are remote, attendees need not travel to attend them, meaning little to no carbon emissions are produced by transport associated with the event. However, physical events often require a lot of travel to attend, as well as to convey equipment and supplies to the venue. For example, the COP26 summit in 2021 produced 102,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than the annual emissions of 8,000 UK residents, most of which came from international flights.


In-person events are far less convenient than virtual events. Participating at a physical event can require attendees to organise transport, accommodation, childcare and more. Virtual events, conversely, require none of this and are hence very popular for their convenience.

Of the UK population over 18 (roughly 54 million people) more than a quarter have dependant children. That means around 14 million people need to make childcare arrangements if they stay away overnight. The bother of organising this can put potential attendees off participating. Even if an event doesn’t require an overnight stay, traveling to and from the venue can clash with school drop-off and pick-up times, alienating parents – especially single parents.

A recent study from the University of Texas’s ‘Nature Sustainability Journal’, found that eliminating the need to travel makes events more accessible to parents with young children. The study found that the participation of women particularly improved, with up to 253% more women attending virtual conferences than in-person, with that figure rising to 344% for academic and postdoctoral events.

Even if children are not a factor for some attendees, geography and income can be hinderances. The same study from the University of Texas found that hosting an event in-person can greatly restrict attendance. It asserts that physical event attendees from African nations pay between 80% and 250% of their country’s annual per person gross domestic product to participate. Comparatively, attendees from the U.S. pay around 3%. Researchers concluded that the lower associated cost and travel time of virtual events thus attract a more diverse group of attendees.

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