Almost three quarters of planners are currently focused on booking or researching live, in-person events, according to the latest Northstar PULSE Survey, carried out among 128 UK and Europe planners in April.
The number of planners not currently focused on live in-person events has fallen to 28 per cent in the last month from 35 per cent in the last survey.
The remaining 72 per cent are either rescheduling or rebooking events (31 per cent), booking new events (12 per cent), actively sourcing for new events (8 per cent) or researching potential new events (20 per cent).
The latter showed a significant nine point shift, up from just 11 per cent in the last survey.
The survey also shows a drop in the number of planners mainly planning virtual events.
38 per cent of respondents said that more than half of the events they are now planning will be for online audiences only, with no in-person component, down from 47 per cent last month. There was also a slight drop in the number of planners with all of their events currently in the pipeline fully virtual, from 17 per cent to 15 per cent.
Confidence in virtual drops
This shift has been accompanied by a drop in confidence in virtual events.
On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, most rated their confidence level as either 3 (35 per cent) or 4 (28 per cent), month-on-month falls of 1 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.
The number of respondents expressing the highest level of confidence in the ability of virtual events to meet their constituents' needs remained steady, at just 5 per cent.
Interestingly, the numbers suggest that planners are becoming more sceptical of the value of hybrid.
The number of respondents currently planning hybrid events is up 1 per cent to 30 per cent, but the number intending to plan them has dropped from 40 per cent to 25 per cent. A further 25 per cent are not sure but considering hybrid as an option, up from 19 per cent.
of planners believe the vaccine rollout will lead to a quicker economic recovery for the sector
There is an increasing belief that the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines will lead to a quicker economic recovery for the sector.
Three quarters (75 per cent) of planners now believe this to be the case, up from 69 per cent month-on-month. Only 8 per cent said they didn't believe the vaccine would help with the economic recovery, unchanged from last month, with the rest unsure.
Fears of contagion
The biggest areas of concern for future in-person or hybrid events include the fear of contagion from Covid-19, the fear of travel extending over the long-term, the impact of the crisis on airlines, and constraints on both meetings and business travel budgets.
The areas that caused least concern among respondents were risks associated with geopolitics and the loss of destination management companies (DMCs) to support programmes.
of planners expect to hold their next in-person event in 2021
The point at which most planners expect to hold their next in-person event is shifting, potentially showing signs of a split in the sector, with some planners going earlier and some delaying until later.
11 per cent of planners expect to hold an event in Q2 2021, up from 6 per cent in the last survey.
However, the number of respondents expecting to hold their next in-person or hybrid meeting or event in Q3 has fallen from 32 per cent to 27 per cent.
The number of planners looking at Q4 2021 has risen from 29 per cent to 31 per cent, while those looking at 2022 has increased one point to 30 per cent
Planners are slightly more optimistic about attending events in the immediate short-term, with more than one quarter of respondents (26 per cent) planning to attend an in-person meeting or business event in the next three months, up from 23 per cent.
of planners think their events will be about the same size when in-person gatherings are allowed
When in-person gatherings are no longer restricted, 8 per cent of planners think the size of their live audiences will be larger – double the 4 per cent from the last time around.
29 per cent think they will be smaller, a decrease from the 38 per cent that said the same in the previous survey.
Almost half (48 per cent) think their events will be about the same size, an increase of 20 percentage points on the last time the question was asked, while just 15 per cent think it is too soon to say, down from 29 per cent, indicating a decrease in levels of uncertainty in the sector.
Increased trust in government
There is a marked rise in expectation among planners that they or the wider industry will receive government support, up from 10 per cent to 19 per cent.
37 per cent of respondents do not expect the meeting industry to receive sufficient national government support to aid the recovery, down from 44 per cent, while the number of people not sure stayed fairly steady, falling 2 per cent to 44 per cent.
of planners expect their next event to require masks
An increasing number of planners expect their next event to require masks and adherence to all protocols, with 70 per cent expecting these measures to be in place, up from 56 per cent last time around.
39 per cent expect to require proof of a recent negative Covid test, an increase of 9 per cent, while 41 per cent expect to require proof of vaccination, an increase of 11 per cent.
There are concerns over how such measures would be implemented, however.
In a verbatim comment, one respondent said: “My team don't have the resources or expertise to manage a testing procedure before and after an event. It’s expensive and requires a lot of person power. I don't see the value in that for a business event (with business-related goals, like brand awareness, connecting emails etc) that could be done virtually.”
Comments from survey respondents
“I would expect that all of our delegates and our own events team would be vaccinated but we have not yet considered this to be mandatory.”
“I think if we're a business events industry committed to innovation and sustainability, we need to let go of the approach of jetsetting to stay in fancy hotel rooms and 'consume.' The benefits are huge to pivoting to a majority online portfolio for business conferences. Industries must evolve.”
“There is a definite shift to the reality of physical events returning later this year and what that might look like. The non-educated assumption is virtual events require less resource and funding but in reality resourcing digital events and particularly hybrid could be far in excess of that for a physical event.”
“I am very positive that sooner or later new normality will be established. People need to interact and network this will never stop. new technologies and digital communication will lead.”
“Travel into the country is a big issue for us - exhibitors wont book a show while they are unsure whether they will need to quarantine or whether the international visitors will travel, so we're holding out for news on this before we can progress much further with stand sales.”
“Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty.”
“The options for online are so much more valuable than they were pre-Covid - it's been a steep learning curve but the landscape for meeting/conference designers has changed forever!”
“All our events have international attendees and so our main concern is the ability for those people to be able to travel because of restrictions and quarantines.”
“I don't think it should be a priority to be in person. Business travel is a major contributor to emissions. I am sure a large majority can be done successfully virtually. It costs less, it’s more inclusive and it’s more efficient. On paper it’s the best option for large 500+ events.”
“I think once we get back to having a social life again, we won't miss in-person business events extravaganzas so much. I appreciate it’s the livelihood of so many people, and entrenched in our industry, but we have to evolve. For the climate, for the economy, for inclusivity.”
“Changes in health status between planning and execution of events concern me, as do border openings for international meetings.”
“Our events are internationally based with international audiences. We are facing many nuances as not all countries are de-restricting travel and opening boarders with the same processes. Meeting contractual number obligations and our customer expectations is key to our events.”
“We need to go back to our business without fear at all.”
Hungry for more data? Read the results of the Northstar US PULSE Survey now...