Meeting and event planners worldwide are currently feeling the effects of COVID-19 on business operations, with eight in ten having been forced to cancel live and in-person gatherings as a result of virus-related complications already. However, while many expect a steep drop in events in coming months, and a growing push to embrace streaming technology, nearly a third still have yet to embrace virtual programming, and half have yet to shift sales strategies. With the majority of event pros not expecting the industry to bounce back for several months, it begs the question: What will the future of meetings and events look like – and how will the shape of professional gatherings change going forward? As we point out in our new book Think Like a Futurist: How to Plan Around Uncertainty and Future-Proof Your Business™, the answers may surprise you.
VIRTUAL AND HYBRID MEETINGS GROW
Seven in ten event professionals have migrated face-to-face events either fully or partially to virtual platforms, and say that online gatherings will be a go-to resource long after the effects of the coronavirus epidemic subside. Luckily for partners and suppliers, less than a quarter believe that virtual events will cannibalize the future of face-to-face events, and 62% anticipate that in-person meetings will exist side-by-side with virtual programming going forward.
CORPORATE AND INCENTIVE TRAVEL SHRINK
Total amount that event and travel cancellations are expected to cost each month worldwide, with 83-87% of companies having cancelled meetings and events already. Global spending on business travel and events is further expected to be down by as much as 37% in 2020 if cancellations persist, which could prompt up to $233 billion in total industry losses if the market doesn’t recover shortly.
INDUSTRY LEADERS BOUNCE BACK
According to Meeting Professionals International, commercial effects of the current industry downswing may be less permanent and lasting than you think. While the overwhelming majority of event professionals expect to take a business hit from COVID-19 in the near future, nearly half say that the coronavirus will have little to moderate impact on their finances within 24 months.
SUPPLIERS ARE FORCED TO EVOLVE
Half of event suppliers say that they are changing their sales strategies to adapt to current concerns, with 26% noting that they believe they will see more business as a result of current industry shifts. However, just 3% state that they are not concerned about coronavirus having any impact on their firm, pointing to the need for continuing shifts in tactical approach and operating focus.
SMALLER EVENTS GET TOP BILLING
Meeting planners predict that the number of large meetings or events (catering to 5000 or more people) will drop across the industry when business returns. Noting this shift, they report that small meetings (especially those with 50 or fewer attendees) are expected to grow in frequency and prominence as a result of ongoing changes to the industry.
TECHNOLOGY TAKES OVER
The total number of meeting planners using virtual and online events is expected to grow significantly in the near future, with 44% of planners and suppliers foreseeing that nearly half of all attendees will be hesitant to travel in coming months. Most say the virtual events they plan to hold will incorporate smaller, more short-form presentations; livestreamed speakers; and incorporate Q&A sessions, chats, and interactive features in the weeks to come.
Planners foresee steep drops in the number of events that they will plan in the following categories in the near future: