Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are transforming from just being fun applications to providing useful value-added tools for companies and customers alike. Exhibitors and organizers also rely on these technologies in the trade fair sector. We spoke with Simone Pfisterer from Mesago Messe Frankfurt GmbH, who has gained initial experience with the use of these new technologies as division manager for Servparc, an event that will be launched this year with an innovative new setup.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are picking up speed in many areas. Is this also true in the trade fair sector?
Definitely, because these technologies offer exhibitors the opportunity to stand out from the crowd, provide inspiration and be remembered. After all, most stands offer information, snacks and good conversations. But interaction with digitally augmented reality through AR or entry into new digital worlds made possible by VR remains a unique experience. Companies can thus tell a very special story and inspire trade fair visitors to visit their own stands or products. More and more companies are already focusing on virtually expanding their stand space.
Are there any examples of concrete applications?
There are numerous possibilities. For example, print media such as trade fair catalogues, customer brochures or product catalogues are being enriched with augmented reality elements. Roll-up displays, from which a person steps out and introduces the company or explains a product, are another example. AR and VR also offer exciting solutions for exhibitors, who are unable to present the entire product range due to lack of space.
AR can be used to intensify the contact between trade fair visitors and the company, while also helping increase the time spent at the stand. For example, you can create a virtual trade fair tour, in which visitors move from station to station on a kind of scavenger hunt. Using a corresponding app on a tablet or smartphone, they can receive additional information and be entertained at the same time.
When it comes to Virtual Reality, there are almost no restrictions. For example, new products can be presented entirely virtually or whole new worlds can be created and digitally experienced.
As an organizer, what do you offer exhibitors and trade fair visitors in this area?
When we presented Servparc’s vision to exhibitors and visitors for the first time at the previous event in early 2018, it was clear to us that we had to make the new format a tangible experience for everyone involved to inspire the industry and secure its commitment. We succeeded in doing this with a replica of the new set-up in combination with an AR application. The model showed the various thematic areas, but only with the help of an iPad were they truly brought to life using AR. This included people moving across the exhibition areas and an option to read more about the individual stations at info points. This was very well received by all participants, because it was simply something different and we showed that we wanted to completely rethink the event.
When it came to acquiring exhibitors, we then dispensed with the conventional exhibitor brochure and instead had an AR app programmed for mobile phones and tablets, in which a virtual customer advisor provided a tour through the individual participation models. Using a flyer or a digital marker on the screen, “Viktor Virtuell” always appeared in the environment the camera was pointing at. This was also an exciting new experience for many exhibitors.
In your opinion, when could the sometimes quite costly use of such technology make sense for exhibitors?
Simpler yet exciting AR applications can be realized within a manageable budget. If the idea fits the target group, the use of AR certainly makes sense. You have to take a closer look, though, when it comes to complex expensive VR projects. Companies should really consider the cost-benefit ratio very carefully, so as not to risk merely producing a prestige project.
Taken several steps further, entire trade fairs could take place in virtual space. How realistic does this scenario seem to you?
The idea is not new and purely virtual trade fairs have already been held. Virtual trade fairs can be used to achieve many things, but not everything. The actual trade fair flair and the intensive discussions are missing. After all, trade fairs are above all one thing—meeting places. Trade fair visitors still want to actually meet the right people to engage in true business matching, which is why they go to trade fairs in the first place. However, the character of the trade fairs will change as a result of further digitalisation, including augmented reality and virtual reality. The stands and product presentations of exhibitors and organizers will become more digital and interactive in the future. In addition to this, it is becoming increasingly important to provide the content offered at the trade fair in a virtual and infinitely available way. That’s why successful trade fairs will need to provide both in the future: a lastingly impressive and motivating live event that brings the right people together face-to-face at the right time combined with increasing virtualization of content.