Planners and suppliers see hybrid events — with a smaller number of participants meeting face-to-face and a larger audience watching online — as a model for the future.
If we were to pinpoint just one thing from our latest COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard survey that indicates just how quickly the events industry has shifted in the last six months, it would be an email we received after we invited professionals to participate in the survey on Aug. 17. Barbara J. Armentrout, CAE, managing partner at the Mesa Group, took issue with the wording of several survey questions that asked to what extent respondents believe the rise in the use of digital-event technology will cannibalize face-to-face attendance at their event/s (for the rest of 2020 and in 2021).
“I wanted to note that I STRONGLY OBJECT to the use of ‘cannibalize’ in the questions,” she wrote. “To me, this shows far too much bias in the desire to return things to the way they used to be, when we all must acknowledge some truths including that the meeting industry was long overdue for a major overhaul and sadly, the pandemic has provided the essential impetus to get that done. It’s an awful situation but the old style was stale, losing ROI, and needed a major facelift. To say that any new format or technology ‘cannibalizes’ is to fail to show resilience, courage, and creativity. And we need all three in abundance.”
Barbara, thanks for pointing out what we should have realized ourselves. We immediately changed “cannibalize face-to-face attendance” to “impact face-to-face attendance” in the survey questions. And in fact, both planners and suppliers expect digital tech will have a greater impact throughout the rest of this year — an average of 57 percent in August vs. and average of 47 percent in last month’s survey say the impact will be extensive. And as far as 2021 is concerned, more planners and suppliers expect digital to have a higher impact on their face-to-face events than a medium impact — the reverse of last month’s results. The readiness to fully embrace digital also is evidenced by the fact that 64 percent of planners in August vs. 53 percent in July said they are redesigning an existing face-to-face event entirely for a digital platform in the next three months.
Here are some additional changes we’ve seen over the last month:
- Planners are less inclined to think that there will be a pent-up demand for all groups to meet face-to-face once the pandemic crisis passes — 14 percent vs. 19 percent last month cited this as the most likely recovery scenario. Meanwhile, suppliers are more optimistic than in July: 18 percent vs. 14 percent believe there will be a pent-up demand to meet in person.
- Suppliers are focusing more sharply on what skills they will need during the recovery, with more respondents this time around citing the need to know how to design live experiences in post-COVID-19 physical environments than designing digital experiences. Also, 32 percent vs. 22 percent in last month’s survey said they are focusing on the monetization of future events.
And while slightly more planners than those who responded in July see hybrid events as the most likely recovery scenario, only one-third said that they are seeking broadcasting facilities in their site-selection process — a question we asked for the first time in this latest survey. Also new: We asked if planners are satisfied with their tech solutions for digital platforms — 63 percent said yes — and if planners and suppliers have joined online communities to help navigate the pandemic. More than half have, primarily on social media and largely to share ideas in unfamiliar times and facing an uncertain future — as Barbara would hope, with “resilience, courage, and creativity.”
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