If you feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you, you’re not alone. When in-person events started to roll out this summer after months of virtual experiences, things started to look almost — dare we say — normal. Then came the Delta variant. As news of escalating infection rates from the COVID-19 variant hit, attendees, exhibitors, and other show stakeholders understandably started to get spooked.
Yet, research conducted Aug. 24 by Epistemix indicates that in-person business events are safer than many daily activities such as grocery shopping when the proper protocols are in place. If you are holding an in-person and hybrid event in the coming months, you can leverage data — from a Freeman survey conducted in collaboration with Epistemix as well as research from Ohio State University — to help allay concerns about physical events. Here are some takeaways from those studies.
At least 80 percent of trade-show attendees and 83 percent of exhibitors are vaccinated — rates much higher than the latest CDC figures for vaccination nationally, which show that 56 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
Events have not been shown to be a major driver of case counts, and infection rates at recent events that were either held outside with on-site testing — Lollapalooza in Chicago in late July is one example — or with vaccine and/or mask mandates were lower than general rates for the metro area hosting the event.
More than 90 percent of event participants are not opposed to additional health and safety protocols that will enable them to gather safely. Any who are opposed will likely stay home, further mitigating risk.
Events are controlled environments. Access is limited to registered guests and the situation allows for proactive steps to avoid overcrowding and reliable implementation of health and safety measures, from facial coverings to pre-packaged food with low-touch distribution.
While safety remains a top concern, the ROI of attending and exhibiting at in-person events is also a topic of focus. If your exhibitors, sponsors, and stakeholders are expressing doubt that attendees will show, the following findings — based on Freeman’s Aug. 15 survey of 8,729 participants across a variety of categories — should help raise their level of confidence.
Attendees want in-person events. The vast majority of attendees (89 percent) say in-person events are irreplaceable. If the event has a hybrid format, 80 percent would rather be in-person than virtual.
Knowing key exhibitors won’t be participating is the No. 1 reason attendees wouldn’t attend. “Engaging/exploring with visitors” is the top reason attendees say they attend in-person events, followed closely by networking with both exhibitors and peers.
Only 30 percent of attendee organizations are likely to restrict travel due to the Delta variant. Nearly 50 percent of organizations plan to send the same number of staff members to events as they have in years past, according to Freeman research conducted Sept. 10.
Smaller events present an opportunity to focus on quality over quantity. Almost all exhibitors (94 percent) responded favorably to the prospect of smaller, more qualified audiences.
Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is president and chief marketing strategist of marketing and public relations agency mdg, which specializes in audience acquisition for live and online events.