In June, before COVID infections spiked due to the Delta variant, PCMA Catalyst Community participants explored possible reasons why they were seeing a shift back to virtual events rather than an expected return to in-person events, including a comfort among audiences with digital events, high costs associated with producing hybrid events, and companies cutting back on business travel due to the risk of visiting destinations with low vaccination rates.
The conversation thread fore-shadows a pivot, once again, to digital events in late 2021 due to a fluid COVID-19 environment. When Convene asked 451 planner respondents in mid-August whether the rise in the Delta variant had changed their plans for in-person and hybrid events in the coming months, 41 percent said they were taking a wait-and-see approach and closely monitoring the situation in their host destination.
Taken on its own, the conversation in June underscores fundamental changes in the business events industry.
“Is it just me, or are you all seeing this too: a gradual shift back to virtual instead of hybrid this fall?” Peter Hackes, president of Performedia, asked the community. “I thought everyone was grabbing their golf clubs and swimsuits and happily heading out the door for the return of in-person, physical events. But we have a number of clients who have surprised us by letting us know that their late 2021 events will not have a physical presence after all. We have discussed with a few others the [issues] that confront a lot of event organizers:
- They have a sphere that is pretty comfortable with virtual events.
- Sales of tickets for returning physical events are not as good as hoped.
- It costs way more to stage the hybrid version than the virtual version of most events. Most of these are smaller events — I’m wondering if that is a factor, too.
“Maybe there [will be more] strictly virtual events in our near future than we were expecting just a few months ago? Thoughts? Thanks!”
I totally agree. We see planners and corporate leaders realizing the cost of hybrid may not provide the payoff for the investment. We see in-person [events] returning at some level, but virtual offerings like online courses [and] breakout knowledge sessions are better served up digitally. We also believe that those digital assets have great value and definitely do not need to be supplied to a virtual audience for free. The in-person event will have one charge but if the attendee chooses to get their information online, they will need to pay for it.
— Lanie Thomure, Business Development Manager, Switch
Yes, we are seeing the same, as clients are expanding their offerings by running more virtual events. Most of our clients were already running virtual and hybrid events, but we are definitely going to see an uptick, especially once people start going back to physical meetings and realize the convenience of running online events. I think there is also a huge difference in what types of events you are servicing, as our clients are heavily focused on education, which is exactly where virtual shines, rather than trade shows, where the physical meeting is really more effective.
Overall, we expect to see organizations increasing their use of virtual for smaller meetings and expanding their engagement strategies to include more events overall. Great news for the meetings industry on all fronts!
— James Parker, President, Digitell
We are predominately virtual for quarter four [of 2021]. I agree that even though the industry talks of hybrid, the cost and manpower to execute seems overwhelming to most clients. Also, will hybrid really provide a better experience or just be distracting to participants? I long for in-person, face-to-face events and look forward to returning safely, when everyone can participate comfortably.
— Anita Carlyle, CMP, CMM, DES, Managing Partner, Moore Carlyle Consulting
I wonder if the in-person sales are down because of travel restrictions imposed by attendee companies. Associations I have worked with and am hearing about are definitely facing [member’s] companies who are still restricting travel. [This is] definitely due to budget concerns, but also possibly due to the uneven vaccination numbers throughout the world. They may not want to chance exposing staff if the location is in an area that has low vaccination numbers.
— Mary de la Fe, Owner, MCJ Meetings