It seems like ages ago that we met up at international events, discussed the future of water face to face and presented our innovative techniques to international audiences. The Partners for Water Programme has supported many Netherlands Pavilions over the years and in 2020 was instrumental in making the switch to the online & hybrid presence of the Dutch water sector at international water events and economic missions. Big events included the ASEAN-5 Virtual Water Mission in 2020, the Singapore International Water Week, including the Road To series, and the Stockholm World Water Week in 2021.
NWP colleagues Sandra Borst and Mirjam van Buchem share their views on the future of international water events.
1. Has the Dutch water sector embraced the new way of meeting international peers online?
Yes, but only to some extent. Everybody is now used to online webinars, which are great for reaching an international and diverse audience, but it has been challenging. We had to instantly adapt to new circumstances and we tried several new tools and platforms. For instance we had our own avatar that walked around 3D exhibitions. We learned a lot in a short time. With the support of the Partners for Water Programme we were able to experiment a little, always with the aim of providing the best solution for the Dutch water sector under the circumstances.
The Dutch are known for their pioneering work and innovative streak, but we are apparently more conservative in making new contacts. With the sector we have come to the conclusion that in the end, live events work best. This does not mean that the engagements that we have had – the online meet-ups, sessions and webinars – were not worthwhile. On the contrary, they were a great alternative, but we are looking forward to the world of international water events opening up again.
2. What have been the greatest challenges in general and in relation to live events?
Making sure that all online applications work properly. There are a lot technical issues such as sound quality, videos that do not work and so on. We have seen it all. Another issue is that the time schedules of events need to be stricter than in live events. People hardly have time to stay longer as the next digital meeting awaits them. As an event team that has organised dozens of live international events, we really missed the more personal interaction with the sector.
That is why we would like to say a big thanks to all NWP members and other water sector organisations whose contributions have been key in creating the professional platforms for knowledge exchange and lively discussions. Without their active participation we could not have done what we do best: connecting the Dutch water sector to international opportunities.
3. Are online and hybrid events here to stay and what developments/trends do you see?
Yes, they are definitely here to stay. One advantage is that more people can participate in hybrid events. At the moment we see a trend in live events becoming VIP events.
We learned that online webinars and knowledge sharing mostly work perfectly. But for finding new leads, spontaneous get togethers, and product demonstrations, a live trade fair still has added value. Virtual exhibitions could not fulfil all the objectives of live exhibitions. But one of the pluses of these developments is that we were able to extend our events portfolio.
4. How have you as the Events Team adapted to the new situation? And how important was the support of the Partners for Water Programme in this?
Our approach has always been the same: we start with the objectives and functions of an event. But instead of translating these into a standard live event, we now also keep track of all new online tools and continuously learn about new features. With these new options and the objectives in mind, we choose the form that fits best. The function of matchmaking became even more crucial over the last year or so.
For the upcoming Aquatech Amsterdam (2-5 November 2021), we are exploring what can be done digitally and live simultaneously. The support from the Partners for Water Programme enabled us to explore and deploy new tools. We also took the opportunity to meet with the sector on different occasions digitally in the run-up to an international event called Road To series. In the Road To Singapore International Water Week, also supported by Partners for Water, we were able to intensify our contacts in Asia.
5. What can we expect in the rest of 2021 and in 2022?
For 2021 we cannot wait to meet up with everyone at Aquatech Amsterdam, of course following the corona pandemic guidelines. It will be the first live international event in the Netherlands organised by and for the water sector since Covid-19. NWP is in the lead in setting up a collective and lively Netherlands Pavilion, highlighting the best that the Netherlands has to offer on water expertise.
We have taken on the challenge of creating a comprehensive programme blending live and online tools that will allow as many people possible to participate. We will use the learnings for upcoming events in 2022 as well. We are certainly looking forward to the Expo Dubai 2020, that kicks off on 1 October 2021 and the Abu Dhabi Sustainability week in January 2022. We can position the Dutch Water Sector at its best in dynamic regions.