News of COVID-19 vaccinations has the events industry a little more hopeful for recovery in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Calgary TELUS Convention Centre)
We could all use some good news as we come to the end of what has likely been the most trying and heartbreaking year professionally and personally for so many in the business events industry. So here it is: We are all more hopeful.
According to the latest COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard, conducted Dec. 14-17, 11 percent more suppliers and planners checked off “hopeful” when asked how they were feeling: Nearly half of suppliers (49 percent) and 54 percent of planners. Planners, in particular, have come a long way since October when we first asked them to share their emotional state — only one-third expressed optimism at the time.
There is good reason for the lift. The week this survey went out was the week the first COVID-19 vaccinations were distributed to American health-care workers, the first wave of the population to receive them — giving this industry and so many others a literal shot in the arm. Seventy-three percent of suppliers and 66 percent of planners said that the approval of effective COVID-19 vaccines had changed their thinking about what might be possible. And 10 percent of planners said they had reserved space or initiated booking space as a result of the news.
As effective vaccines became a reality, we asked this month’s 554 respondents — 375 planners and 179 suppliers — a new question: Would they be asking future attendees and staff at face-to-face events (whether as the event organizer or host venue or other supplier) to show proof of vaccination in order to be allowed entry? Both planners and suppliers were fairly aligned on this — only 32 percent of meeting professionals and 38 percent of suppliers will make that a requirement.
How We’ll Come Back
Respondents are anxious to move forward, whether in person — one planner wrote: “Done with virtual events. Bring back live events.” — or digital, or a combination of the two. Or something entirely new. This planner respondent said: “We believe the event community will need to run multiple marathons to get on the other side. Therefore, we’re asking: How might we think another way beyond the ‘omni-channel’ approach to consider what doesn’t yet exist?”
Another planner summed up the near-future based on current realities: “I think the desire to meet and get back to in-person meetings is there, but we have seen a number of uncontrollable factors impact our decisions, such as corporate travel bans through July 1, 2021, and a lack of clearly defined quarantine rules when traveling and upon return.”
Meanwhile, the appetite to meet in person with all of the safety protocols that requires may be waning on the supplier side. The 34 percent of suppliers who had attended a face-to-face event in recent days were less enthusiastic about the experience than last month — 65 percent vs. 72 percent in our last survey said the event was worth all the safety protocols and PPE, and 33 percent vs. 23 percent last month don’t see this as a viable option for most groups.
And a greater percentage of suppliers (36 percent vs. 31 percent last month) said they are focusing their reskilling efforts on providing digital experiences, while a smaller percentage are spending time developing new business models (38 percent vs. 46 percent last month). This may indicate a growing acceptance that hybrid events will be the industry’s enduring model.
How We’re Coming to Grips With Tech
Planners seem more content with tech providers for their virtual events — 65 percent expressed satisfaction vs. 58 percent last month. On the other hand, suppliers indicated that they are seeking more counsel from colleagues when it comes to technology. Thirty-two percent this month vs. 23 percent last month said they had joined an online community group to get tech-provider recommendations.
Nonetheless planners say they continue to struggle with finding seamless solutions to their tech needs. Wrote one: “We have learned that there is no ‘one-stop shop.’ We have had to change platform vendors for every program held to date because they are all different in objectives. What I use for a 5,000-person, customer-facing program is not what I can use for a 400-person training program. And I wish they would all just get native API, chats, and project management teams — very frustrating. Lot of ‘selling dreams and servicing nightmares’ taking place.”
Several planners’ responses underscored that that how no matter how advanced the platform, it just can’t replicate face-to-face interactions. What’s lacking, one wrote, is “Mimicking walking around a room networking, not random matching, not signing up for a time slot.”
As the pandemic wears on, the business events industry continues to lean on one another for support. This month, 57 percent of both suppliers and planners, an increase for both groups from last month, said they have joined community groups for help. What are they looking for most? Ninety-four percent of planners and 85 percent of suppliers are looking for their peers to share their ideas as they navigate the future.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.
Please download a PDF of the full December Recovery Dashboard results by clicking the link below.