Events Professionals Weigh Conflicting Recovery Realities

Convene’s latest COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard survey results demonstrate how suppliers and planners continue to factor all kinds of challenges into their plans for 2021 digital, in-person, and hybrid events.

Author: Michelle Russell       


About half of the planner respondents to the April Dashboard said they are planning a hybrid event in 2021,  like the hybrid GMID event at hosted online and at the Conrad New York Downtown.

In mid-April, at the same time that more than 400 event professional respondents were checking off boxes and typing in comments for our latest COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard survey, The New York Times published an article by bestselling author and Wharton professor of management and psychology, Adam Grant. His opinion piece, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,” may help shed light on this month’s responses.

According to Grant, languishing is a sense of stagnation. “We just feel somewhat joyless and aimless. … It feels like you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield,” Grant writes, adding that he thinks languishing will be “the dominant emotion of 2021.”

The pandemic, he writes, has dragged on, and our initial state of anguish “has given way to a chronic condition of languish.” We don’t operate at our full capacity — our motivation is dulled and our ability to focus disrupted.

Perhaps Grant would attribute differences in some of the responses of 260 planners and 146 suppliers in this month’s survey vs. last month to all of us experiencing that sense of languish. In the month between the two surveys, vaccinations in the U.S. (where the majority of respondents live) have averaged around 3 million shots per day — certainly our best chance of recovery. Yet, 7 percent fewer planner respondents reported feeling hopeful (50 percent vs. 57 percent) compared to last month, and fewer said they were feeling inspired and creative. More said they were doing their best to get by. Suppliers seemed to indicate a greater need to dip into their reservoirs of resiliency: 34 percent compared to 27 percent last month said they were feeling determined, and 4 percent more said they were feeling anxious.

In terms of reskilling, while all signs point to a surge in leisure travel, significantly fewer suppliers and planners said that they are focusing their efforts on designing live experiences in post-COVID-19 physical environments compared to last month: only 26 percent vs. 46 percent of suppliers and 65 percent vs. 71 percent of planners. This, of course, could be due to a recognition that event venues have made safety protocols a top priority and so that’s not something non-venue operators are concerned about mastering. It could also indicate a continuing state of uncertainty about how events will play out this year. Slightly more planners are focusing their reskilling efforts on digital experiences and monetization of future events vs. last month and more suppliers said they are working on developing new business models (51 percent vs. 43 percent last month) and business continuity and scenario planning.

This month, instead of asking whether organizers were planning hybrid events in 2021, we spelled out three variations: in-person only, online only, and digital plus in-person. Online-only was selected by the largest percentage — 67 percent — with nearly half choosing hybrid and 36 percent planning a fully in-person event. A larger percentage (19 percent vs. 14 percent last month) said their in-person event would likely take place in the second quarter; a smaller percentage (40 percent vs. 50 percent last month) selected Q3.

Forty-five percent of planners said they are planning to do networking differently to encourage interaction at their in-person or hybrid event, with many saying that they are planning to find ways for the in-person and online audiences to connect.

Networking is just one of the many aspects of 2021 events requiring rethinking. In order to chart a path forward, planners and organizers are taking many contradictory factors — like a pent-up demand to meet in person on one hand and a hesitancy to travel on the other — into account. One planner summed up the conflicts this way: “Many of our speakers, attendees, sponsors, and exhibitors are under employer travel bans for most of 2021, so determining the financial viability of even attempting to move forward with a smaller in-person event — when hotels are unwilling to allow you to rebook — is a huge challenge.” Another cited the biggest challenge as “Getting senior management to find the balance between value and risk with F2F meetings.”

One thing remains certain: There is no one way back or forward. As a supplier wrote: “I think any singular prediction misses how complex and varied the business event landscape will continue to be.”

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

Please download a PDF of the full April Recovery Dashboard results by clicking the link below.

Previous Recovery Dashboard Results

Find all the past results on our Recovery Dashboard archive page.

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