What was a cost- and time-saving novelty two months ago has now become a vital solution during the “coronareality” of today. Virtual site inspections make it possible to experience a ballroom while still practicing social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus. Smart Meetings asked the experts about how realistic VR tours are today—and what to ask when setting one up.

A Match Made in the Ballroom

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, more meeting professionals were exploring the option of touring sites remotely to avoid scheduling issues and travel costs, says Sandy Hammer, cofounder and chief marketing officer at Allseated, which just launching Connect, a video conferencing feature that will allow properties to hold virtual meetings in the actual event space.

At first, the alternative was particularly popular with wedding couples looking to plan their destination weddings. Now the event industry is discovering the convenience.

Even sales professionals who live by the motto, “Once they visit in person, they will understand the magic,” are beginning to understand that a virtual tour can also sell a space in a world where no one can travel, Hammer reports.

At the same time, planners who normally require a site inspection before they sign a contract are discovering that the right tools can help them make decisions now, while the properties are available. Amy Robb, a meeting broker and live event producer with Meetings Made Easy says that her company is using virtual tours as a tool to help clients postpone rather than cancel. She had an active RFP for a November event and was able to scout for sites from her home office for an outdoor cocktail party at a boutique hotel.

Post-Corona Adoption

Hammer predicts more meeting professionals will site virtually beyond the virus outbreak. Virtual tools will save time and allow them to sell remotely. Bonus: They never have to worry if the space is already running an event, limiting their ability to show it to a prospective client. “Virtual site inspections are going to be the new way to sell,” Hammer says.

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Robb hypothesized that most planners will use the technology to narrow down the range of choices and then physically visit the top candidates. “This makes it much easier to consider a property, and for planners with a lot of programs can help them file ideas away for later,” she says.

Virtual Tour Dos and Don’ts

Walking the expo floor is still a little bit different from taking a video-assisted tour, so Sandy and Robb have tips for making the most of the tool.

  • Look for venues that have virtual tours on their website. “This also shows that a venue is forward-thinking, adaptable and has the newest technology available so you can have confidence in making a decision remotely,” Hammer says.
  • Ask for a Zoom-type video conference inside of the venue’s floorplan. It is important to get a photorealistic, 360-degree model of the environment. It will give you the look and feel of being in the space.
  • A virtual reality headset enhances the impact by immersing you in a 3-D version of the event space. You can more easily visualize different set-ups and angles. Hammer recommends getting your own headset before you take the tour so you are comfortable with the technology. “You really lose yourself in the feeling of being transported directly into a venue,” she says.
  • Be specific about what you want to see, Robb advises. That way the hotel team can prepare the areas for the set-up you are considering, and you can skip the redundant parts of a physical tour, such as seeing a double guest room and a queen guest room and a…