The positive outweighed the negative in the most-recent PCMA APAC Dashboard Survey — at least when it came to how 184 planner and supplier respondents said they were feeling. One-third said their mood was hopeful, 16 percent are feeling inspired and creative, and 15 percent said they were determined, sort of a middle ground. A collective 36 percent expressed a less positive outlook, saying they were doing their best to get by, anxious about the future, or exhausted and burned out.
Respondents to the survey, conducted 13-26 April, were both business event professionals (66 percent) and suppliers (34 percent), who do the majority of their business in Australia and New Zealand (38 percent), followed by Southeast Asia (36 percent). The largest percentage work in professional services (32 percent), followed by independent planners and agencies representing clients in a variety of industries (27 percent).
Around half of respondents (52 percent) said they are focusing their reskilling efforts on designing live experiences in post-COVID-19 physical environments, slightly down from 55 percent of respondents who identified this as an important new skill in a PCMA APAC survey conducted last July. And only 57 percent of respondents said that they are focused on designing digital event experiences, compared to 74 percent of planner respondents to the 2020 survey.
A possible interpretation of this data point may be that respondents to the recent survey have become more proficient in digital event design in the nine months between the two surveys, and/or they are focusing more of their efforts on convening small face-to-face events safely.
In fact, 82 percent of respondents were planning an in-person event this year, with the largest contingent (44 percent) scheduling events for Q4 2021.
They do expect their in-person events, however, to look very different than in pre-COVID times. Sixty percent estimate that the rise in the use of digital-event technology will have a high or extensive impact on face-to-face attendance at 2021 events, slightly higher than predictions in last year’s survey — slightly more than half of planners said they anticipated a high or extensive impact this year. Looking ahead to 2022, only 39 percent foresee a high or extensive impact on attendance, with the largest percentage (44 percent) planning their 2022 events for the first quarter.
And while only 15 percent of respondents described their mood as determined, pulling off their events with anticipated quick turnarounds will certainly require grit: More than one-third said they are making the go/no-go decision on planning an in-person event within two months of the event date, the shortest window offered among the survey options.
That the post-COVID-19 environment remains fluid and uncertain is also backed up by respondents’ estimates for in-person registration numbers: Nearly one-third say they were unable to estimate until they got closer to the event date. Of those hazarding a guess, 46 percent expected declines of up to 50 percent or more in attendance for their 2021 in-person event vs. the same event held in pre-pandemic times. The largest percentage — 46 percent — do not anticipate any overseas delegates attending these events. Indeed, government officials confirmed in mid-May that Australia will remain closed to the rest of the world until mid-2022.
The most popular scenario for the recovery of face-to-face meetings, chosen by 36 percent of respondents, is that smaller local and regional events will thrive before national and international groups gather.
The thinking that global events will take longer to return in the APAC region was confirmed by recent news (announced after the survey had concluded) that World Economic Forum (WEF) organisers canceled a special annual meeting, scheduled for Aug. 17-20 in Singapore. “Regretfully, the tragic circumstances unfolding across geographies, an uncertain travel outlook, differing speeds of vaccination roll-out, and the uncertainty around new variants combine to make it impossible to realise a global meeting with business, government, and civil society leaders from all of the world at the scale which was planned,” WEF said in the 17 May announcement.
While 30 percent of participants expect that people will travel to regional and domestic events in the third and fourth quarter of this year, 28 percent acknowledged that despite a pent-up demand for in-person events, organisations will avoid assuming risks associated with business travel, and 23 percent cited budget cuts, the economy, and job insecurity as playing a key role in limiting attendance.
Respondents are pursuing several different models of hybrid events — they are almost evenly split between holding a simultaneous in-person event with streaming video and a separate online program for a virtual audience (37 percent) and the same offering but without separate online content for digital participants (38 percent). The vast majority (79 percent) see interaction between the in-person and digital audiences as an important aspect of a hybrid event.
That event professionals are pursuing a hybrid approach to their events is also evidenced by the fact that nearly 70 percent of survey participants are making broadcasting facilities a criterion for future events in their site-selection process, with 74 percent prioritising broadcast quality virtual event and studio spaces and 68 percent looking for facility staff with experience in running digital events. Of course, costs are a deciding factor as well, cited by 70 percent of respondents.
Finally, events professionals’ resourcefulness comes through in their responses to the question, How has your event/s business model changed? In almost equal percentages, survey respondents said they had become less reliant on face-to-face event registrations and/or sponsors (49 percent) and had changed the frequency of their events (48 percent). Thirty percent have adopted a hub-and-spoke model with regional gatherings and a virtual audience and 31 percent have found ways to monetise the digital audience by becoming more data driven.
Some responses in the open-ended comments section to this question reveal initiatives that are less about changes to the business model and more about demonstrating flexibility, like “cross skilling of sales staff to be able to work with whichever markets are active through recovery,” or belt-tightening — reducing fixed overhead costs, such as staff and office space.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of PCMA Convene.
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