COVID-19 Impact on Events Research: Top-line Results for Planners

Author: Michelle Russell       

events industry

Convene asked business event industry professionals and suppliers to take our survey about the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the industry. In total, 1,776 people responded.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, as we all know, hit the business events industry with unprecedented force. To get a sense of how business events professionals are responding, PCMA sent out an email invitation on April 1 to its database of event planners and suppliers to participate in a survey on the coronavirus’ effect on them, their organizations, and their events. The link to participate was also included in PCMA newsletters and on social media. A total of 1,776 people responded to the survey over five days; 69 percent (1,230 individuals) identified as business event professionals.

Here are highlights of their responses:

Employment Effects

While the majority of respondents — 57 percent — who work for an organization said their employment has been unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, 12 percent said that their salary has been reduced and 6 percent have had to lay off other team members. Those results likely skew lower than the reality. Since PCMA’s email database is comprised largely of business rather than personal addresses, those who have been furloughed or laid off would not likely have received the invitation to participate unless they responded via social media.

Using this Time Productively

Sixty-three percent of respondents said that they are using this time to cultivate other skills, with a majority focusing on developing virtual event strategies and learning about online platforms.

Q: Have you considered or have you started reskilling (developing other skill sets) as a result of this unprecedented business disruption?

High Rate of Canceled/Postponed Events

Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they have canceled — and 66 percent have postponed — events as a result of COVID-19.

Still under review

Sixty-one percent said they were in the midst of deciding whether to cancel or postpone an upcoming event. The majority of events still under review are scheduled for June, and a majority said they will be making that decision this month.

Going virtual

Seven out of 10 respondents have moved their face-to-face event partially or fully to a virtual platform, and many don’t see that as a short-term fix during the pandemic but something that will continue alongside in-person events going forward. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic may have quashed the longstanding fear that virtual events will cannibalize future face-to-face events: Less than one-quarter said that is something they worry about; 62 percent said that is not a concern they share.

Q: Do you worry that digital events will cannibalize face-to-face events in the future?

What to Expect Next

Nearly half of respondents think their future potential attendees will be more hesitant to travel than have a pent-up desire to meet face to face once the crisis has abated. The one-quarter of respondents who checked the “other” option said that they think there will be a mix of feelings among their audiences. Some said they don’t think attendance levels will rise to their 2019 levels until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, and others said the even if there is a desire to travel to attend an event, economic realities may prevent on-site participation in events in the short term.

Q: Do you anticipate that there will be a pent-up demand to meet face to face once the pandemic is behind us, or do you worry that people will still be concerned about close contact and opt not to travel?

Future of Events

Many respondents said that they were still taking stock of the situation and their expectations about the future of events were changing day by day. As one respondent summed it up: “It feels like my industry became obsolete overnight.”

Others remained positive about the business events industry recovery. “I foresee/hope that as the pandemic subsides people (organizers and attendees) will look forward to a resumption of business as usual. I do not think that there will be more meetings as a result of pent-up demand but from a social behavior perspective, I think the self-quarantine has reminded us that we are social animals and crave face-to-face communication. Live meetings will continue just as they always have alongside virtual meeting technology.”


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