Real estate is as much about people as it is about buildings. The relationships forged over deals, negotiations, and cocktails are built in-tandem with progress towards a common goal. Real estate deals are more than transactions, they’re a symptom of establishing dependable and beneficial relationships that will make future actions easier and between trusted friends.
Networking is a crucial part to real estate, an industry that thrives on who you know and how you’re connected, almost to a fault. When in-person networking was all but halted due to pandemic restrictions, the real estate industry had to quickly adapt to survive while the world hit pause. Just like every other industry from education and healthcare to technology and construction, people took traditionally face to face interactions into the virtual realm.
The numbers say this isn’t a great idea. Eighty-five percent of people say they build stronger, more meaningful business relationships at conferences or meetings and 95 percent say these in-person meetings are crucial to creating and maintaining long-term business relationships. Certain aspects of communication are lost in a virtual environment like context clues and physical expressions or movements. Sarcasm is harder to comprehend online and sensing a conversation’s overall vibe may be impossible. Fan of multi-tasking? You can’t do that in-person as these interactions, fortunately, demand our full attention. When we cannot meet in-person, virtual is better than nothing, but it’s not an equivalent alternative.
Despite our appreciation for alone or quiet time, especially parents who have been juggling work and childcare for many months now, humans are social creatures. In fact, 65 percent of study participants reported increased feelings of loneliness since the pandemic began with a majority also experiencing anxiety, a loss of feeling connected, and depression.
As people stayed home and travel slid to a stop, events and conferences were one of the hardest hit industries. “COVID-19 made us all understand what we can do virtually and what is best done in person,” said David Hirschman, EVP and Chief Content Officer at Blueprint, an October real estate event in Las Vegas. “Conferences are one of the things that we learned can be done online but don’t have the same effect. We see hybrid events being part of our strategy going forward but as long as we can hold events in person, we will. Online the content can be shared even further but the networking element just doesn’t translate to the on-screen experience—and let’s face it, many people come to these events just to network.”
“COVID-19 made us all understand what we can do virtually and what is best done in person. Conferences are one of the things that we learned can be done online but don’t have the same effect.”
Technology-focused conferences have also been an important place for real estate professionals to be introduced to new innovations. “You don’t buy PropTech like you do consumer product,” said Vik Venkatraman, General Manager at Blueprint. “Oftentimes these tech solutions have to be completely integrated into a company’s current tech stack so it is really a long term commitment. Most people want some facetime with their partner before walking down the aisle.” Trust is an important part of a relationship with a technology provider and nothing instills trust by getting to meet someone in person.
While many continue to work from home or in a hybrid office schedule, that in-person human connection could still be lacking. Filling that void, destination conferences get attendees out of the house while giving them a chance to brush off their networking skills and dig out their business cards. Las Vegas, Nevada is one of the top locations for conferences, also keeping the city alive and bustling during the workweek. “Group and convention room nights on the books for the second half of 2021 versus 2019 are currently pacing up over 30 percent,” said Anthony Carano, President and Chief Operating Officer of Caesars Entertainment. “We are seeing good growth rate as well.”
However, if we learned anything from 2020, it’s that the future cannot be predicted and the conferences of 2021 are showing signs of adaptability. In-person events seem to be on hold until mid-year in North America, but they’re already happening, and with great attendance, in Australia. These events are also showing success with a hybrid element, allowing virtual attendees to mix with in-person attendees. Technology that brings virtual attendees into the event enables conferences to be accessible by more people than ever before, which can positively impact the reach of networking and sponsorship dollars. “Technology is really complementary to meeting in person,” explained Matthew Clancy, Professor at Iowa State University and author of a biweekly newsletter on academic research about innovation. “There really hasn’t been much research yet on how well people can meet and form collaborations in an entirely online setting.”
While hybrid events are relatively new, it wouldn’t be surprising if the perks of a virtual event such as lead generation, online networking, and on-demand videos remain a part of events to come. “My prediction is that people will get better at socializing online but that’s a generational kind of change, not something people will get better at in just two or three years,” said Clancy.
The commercial real estate space is a perfect example of how technology has entered a traditional space and accelerated its evolution into something greater than before. Events like Blueprint focus on such PropTech and are leading the way for future in-person events; “We’re excited to bring our big spotlight to the dynamic and rapidly evolving industry of PropTech and look forward to building Blueprint into a must-attend annual event for years to come, starting this year in Las Vegas,” added Venkatraman. While PropTech is bringing commercial real estate into a new digitally-powered chapter, the value of in-person meetings will always be the foundation of business relationships no matter how good virtual conferences and interactions get.