For live events to return, confidence is the watchword

As the UK becomes the first country in the world to approve a vaccine, there is a lot of positivity in the air for event professionals right now.

And rightly so. With the vaccination programme set to be rolled out over the next few months, there’s every chance that we’ll be able to travel about freely not long into 2021.

But will people want to travel? And more importantly for event professionals, will they want to travel to meetings and events? That’s the great unknown.

Back in October, a survey by OAG revealed that nearly half of travellers feared catching coronavirus on board a plane.

However, in the same week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) demonstrated that since the start of 2020 there had been 44 cases of Covid-19 reported in which transmission was thought to have been associated with a flight. This was over a period in which some 1.2 billion passengers had travelled – making one Covid case for every 27 million travellers.

This demonstrates the huge disparity between the perceived and actual dangers of travelling – and the size of the task facing meeting organisers.

In November, Global DMC Partners’ Q3 Meetings & Events Survey found that almost two thirds of event professionals (63 per cent) believe that average event attendee numbers will decrease in 2021, citing the level of comfort with traveling and attending events in general.

“The gap between the perceived and actual risk of travel since the Covid-19 pandemic arrived has been widening significantly despite the vast quantity of information increasingly available,” says Suzanne Sangiovese, commercial and communications director at travel intelligence specialists Riskline. “It’s an important factor in the current reluctance to travel even when we can.”

Sangiovese says that information overload, conflicting information and misinformation about Covid-19 are rife and are important contributory factors in the increase in this gap.

“They have created uncertainty which, coupled with emotional responses and actual risks including the inconvenience of being put into quarantine and the availability of Zoom meetings as an alternative option, is an important factor in the current reluctance to travel even when we can,” she says.

Back in the summer, one event agency head, who wanted to remain anonymous, told me that the return of travelling for events will all depend on the return of leisure travel.

“People will not want to travel for business until their personal lives have returned to normal,” they said. “Confidence is everything.”

And that still holds true today. So how can event planners help instil this confidence and get delegates willing to travel again? Sangiovese has an answer.

“Several industry experts have told me that travellers with organisations that offer more structure and solutions – such as online booking tools, travel management companies and mandated travel policies – tend to have more positive feelings about starting to travel again,” she says. “We have also seen a pattern of increasing demand for information services as companies start to think about allowing their staff to travel.

“Cutting through the vast amount of misinformation, providing consistent, trustworthy data and communicating it to travellers are essential if we are to close the gap between perceived and actual risk and give travellers confidence.”