For years now we’ve been told that virtual conferences are destined to replace traditional, face-to-face meetings. “Experts” (who usually work for companies that produce virtual conferences) keep insisting that people are clamoring for the chance to “attend” conferences without all the hassles of travel, pandemics, bedbugs, whatever. But despite the inconveniences, people have continued to flock to conferences, giving organizers little reason to make the switch. Until now.
Thanks to the global economic downturn, conferences are seeing sizable drops in attendance. Could this be the tipping point? Has the audience for virtual conferences finally reached critical mass? Not yet, if you ask the attendees. The Winter 2009 Impact Study (PDF) from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) surveyed over 8,500 members from 97 associations and found that:
…reports of a vast migration from face-to-face gatherings to online alternatives appear to overstate the case. Of people who only attended in-person events last year, only three percent say there’s a high probability they’ll only attended [sic] virtual events this year. In fact, if there’s a migration at all, it’s going the other way: Nine percent of people who only attended virtual programs last year say they’re likely to attend only a face-to-face meeting this year.
So with virtual meetings becoming more attractive to organizers and attendees not yet willing to give up face-to-face meetings, who wins the tug-of-war?