Survey Finds the Push for In-Person Events Brings Fresh Challenges

Respondents to our latest COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard indicated that they are organizing more in-person-only and hybrid events in the coming months than in our previous survey, but they are finding it more difficult than ever to plan and budget for them.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Destination Showcase booths

Responses to our latest survey indicate that organizers are planning more in-person events. Planners themselves attended Destination Showcase during Business Events Industry Week in late March. (EPNAC Photography & Video)

Perhaps the 580 planners and suppliers who participated in Convene’s latest COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard in mid-April (399 and 181, respectively) were primed to lean into their emotional side. When we invited the events industry to take part in the survey, we highlighted that we were focusing on mental health and wellbeing, in addition to asking some of the other questions we had been including in this monthly and bi-monthly survey.

That’s one possible explanation why this particular data point stood out: A significantly higher percentage of respondents identified soft skills, including cultivating resilience in times of crisis, as an area of focus for their reskilling or skill-development efforts. Nearly 40 percent of planners checked this option in April vs. 24 percent in February; for suppliers, it was 45 percent vs. 34 percent.


RELATED: Mental Health and the Business Events Industry


Another likely factor in the need for resilience is that their responses to other questions indicate that the industry is solidly in return-to-in-person mode, and that requires continued grit and flexibility — and increases pressure on both planners and suppliers to shore up losses and drive revenue. And lest we forget, a lot has happened in the world since February, including a war in Ukraine, skyrocketing fuel and food costs, and growing supply-chain challenges.

There were several key indications of that focus on face-to-face events: When we asked planners in February, less than half were planning in-person-only events in Q1-2; that shot up in April to nearly 7 out of 10 who were working on exclusively in-person events for Q2-3. Around the same — more than one-third — are planning digital-only events, and one out of two planners in April (vs. two out of five in February) are organizing hybrid events. Planners said the in-person and online formats will take place simultaneously in some way for their hybrid events, similar to responses in February. But in our April survey, we gave respondents an additional response option — an asynchronous hybrid model — and 19 percent said they will offer a digital component related to but not held in parallel with the in-person event.

Planners were more optimistic in April than February about their in-person attendance levels compared to pre-pandemic times. Only a small percentage (4 percent in April vs. 7 percent in February) predicted their attendance would dip by more than one-half. One-quarter of planners vs. 36 percent in the February survey are now expecting a decline of up to one-half of their pre-pandemic attendee numbers; 18 percent vs. 10 percent think attendance will bounce back up to those pre-pandemic numbers; and 11 percent vs. 6 percent are anticipating that they will have up to 50 percent or more attendees than before COVID.

Even though they may be more hopeful, respondents remain realistic: More than one-third — the same percentage as in February — said they will be unable to estimate numbers until they get closer to their event date, acknowledging that the pandemic and its myriad impacts and other economic factors still make for an uncertain planning environment.

While both planners and suppliers expect the revenue impact related to their 2022 events will be somewhat lower when compared to the February responses, planners are finding it more difficult to predict the financial implications for their face-to-face events: Forty-one percent vs. 33 percent in the previous survey cited budgeting for in-person events as a major challenge. One planner attributed the angst to “rising costs of goods and services because of COVID, inflation, and the war in Ukraine. Budget impacts change daily.” Another planner connected those financial challenges and uncertainties to yet another expectation that has been layered on top of all the other demands — elevating the in-person experience: “Expenses related to event delivery to ensure we are bringing the in-person event back in a memorable and meaningful way.”

In case anyone is still wondering why so many checked “resilience” as a necessary skillset.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

Please download a PDF of the 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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