The past few years have been devastating for those in the live events industry. Millions of workers across travel, entertainment, venues, technology, and event services had to pivot from panic as events evaporated, then fitfully returned. Is the worst of the pandemic storm now past?
In that light, marketers, event producers, and prospective attendees are all expressing optimism about the road forward. What’s clear though is that the industry will never return to 2019. The live events industry will rebound, but with new processes and priorities.
Here are key findings from 10 research reports released since the beginning of April, 2022.
Virtual and digital services will be essential elements, not optional add-ons.
That’s one key conclusion from the report, B2B Events Industry Outlook 2022 produced by Emerald Xcelerator. (You can find the full report here, and a helpful summary from Practical Ecommerce here.) Here are a few more.
Not surprisingly, after our enforced isolation, 54% of attendees want event organizers to offer in-person networking events. Somewhat more surprisingly, the largest share (62%) still want to attend webinars. Demand for podcasts has also increased.
- 84% of attendees and 67% of vendors want event organizers to help facilitate ecommerce transactions.
- While both the number of events and attendance are expected to rise this year versus 2021 (hardly shocking), they won’t quite return to 2019 levels.
Most impactfully, the report found that success metrics are changing. In the pre-pandemic world, the top priority for planners was number of attendees; for B2B vendors, number of leads generated; and for attendees, the networking. Going forward, those priorities will shift to more focus on the quality of contacts; the level of engagement with key contacts; and engagement beyond just the few days of the live event.
Everything will have a virtual component in the future.
In a study conducted by Zoom and Qualtrics Research, 80% of U.S. respondents agree with that statement, as do 79% from the UK, 82% from Australia, and 75% from Germany. Here are few more findings.
- When asked, “If given the choice, would you prefer to do the following in-person or virtually?,” nearly three-quarters of respondents want business events to be hybrid.
- The largest share (45%) prefer that celebrations be in-person only, while 11% prefer that government events be only virtual.
- Across countries in the survey, more than three-quarters of respondents “agreed that video calling gives everyone an opportunity to participate.”
- Just 25% of U.S. respondents said they would attend business-related events only in person going forward. 10% said virtual only, while nearly two-thirds (64%) will do both.
The key takeaway: the pandemic forced people who rarely or never used virtual communications tools to suddenly begin using them regularly, and for a wide range of purposes. Technology options for online meetings and virtual events have greatly expanded and improved. Those developments will permanently change how events are planned, produced, and participated in going forward.
One more interesting finding about the value of virtual events comes from The 2022 Fundraising Event Experience Report: “Virtual attendees and in-person attendees are nearly are nearly equal in saying they would donate more than $100 during an event…Twenty-one percent of virtual attendees said they would kick in $100 or more on top of event registration fees while 19 percent of in-person attendees said the same.”
Event marketing budgets are rebounding, but still (for now) focused on virtual events.
Comparing survey findings from March 2022 to July 2021, a significantly smaller percentage of B2B marketers said their event budgets were gone completely. But almost the same share (42% vs. 43%) said their spending is still focused on virtual events. Here are more results from SmartBrief. More findings:
- Priorities are shifting (in a positive way). In July 2021, respondents said the top factor influencing them to attend a live event was “strong safety protocols.” In March 2022, that shifted to “networking opportunities.”
- Still, 55% of marketers continue to say they are concerned about another variant of COVID-19 emerging.
- While nearly nine out of ten companies have resumed business travel, 28% say they are sending fewer people to events.
- Only 25% of marketers said “their virtual event sponsorships were successful or very successful.”
In short, there is a strong desire to get back to live event normalcy. We’re just not quite there yet.
Event industry growth is accelerating, but it depends where you are.
According to a research summary from Hospitality Net, “Meetings volume from February to March (2022) increased 55.5 percent. Even more significant is a 428 percent increase over March 2021.” In addition, the average number of attendees per event is up significantly from a year ago, and back to on par with 2019 levels.
Diving deeper into the full research report from Knowland, while a strong recovery underway, the trend varies widely across leading U.S. cities for live events.
- Knowland projects that just “two markets will be fully recovered by the end of 2022: Phoenix and Tampa.”
- In 2023, “Seven markets will achieve 100 percent or greater recovery including Phoenix, Tampa, Miami, Dallas, Nashville, Washington, and Anaheim,” while eight more cities will achieve 90% or better recovery.
- 24 of the top 25 markets will hit 90% or higher recovery by 2025, with only Detroit lagging.
Corporate travel is rebounding, though headwinds remain.
That’s the high-level conclusion from a recent study by Deloitte. Their research found that while “Over the remainder of 2022, corporate travel should grow significantly from its now-small base,” international travel continues to lag due to restrictions and conflicts, and concerns about virus variants remain. Other insights:
“Travel managers have also reduced their expectations for recovery in 2022. Only 17% expect a full recovery by the end of 2022, versus more than half of the respondents to the 2021 survey.” The Delta and Omicron variants have dampened expectations for a faster rebound.
- Though concerns about travel restrictions and employee safety are declining, worries about the increasing cost of travel are growing.
- While companies plan to send more employees to live events in the spring of 2022 than during the fall 2021 event season, corporate travel managers don’t expect a full recovery in business travel until after 2023.
The report concludes that 2022 will be a year of recovery in corporate travel, though it will be slow and gradual. And in addition, “A new commitment to sustainability joins a much older commitment to cost containment, and together they will likely increase scrutiny of return on investment” for in-person business events. There’s a lot more in this report, which is well worth checking out in its entirety.
Another study, the Business Travel Tracker — 2022 report from Tourism Economics in collaboration with the U.S. Travel Association and JD Power Associates, provides more detail on the current state of and future trends in business travel. Among its conclusions:
- “Business travelers expect to resume traveling at a similar frequency as pre-pandemic, averaging about 1.6 trips per month (compared to 1.7 pre-pandemic).”
- When asked about business travel plans for specific purposes over the next six months compared to pre-pandemic times, companies are most likely to spend the same or more for travel to customer/supplier/stakeholder meetings, and least likely to do so for incentive travel.
- More than three-quarters of respondents plan to spend the same (43%) or more (24%) on travel to conferences, conventions, and trade shows.
- Among the top reasons for travel by partially or fully remote workers are to “engage with co-workers or team members in person” (38%) and to “attend in-person company, department, or team celebrations” (29%).
Live Event Trends in the UK and Europe
According to the Europe Events and Exhibitions Market – Industry Outlook & Forecast 2022-2027, the events and exhibitions market in Europe is projected to expand at roughly a 3% CAGR over the next five years. Put another way, the market is expected to grow almost 20% overall by 2027.
Finally, per the Meetings & Events State of the Nation 2022 report from BVA BDRC, “17.5% of event and exhibition businesses (in the UK) are estimated to have permanently ceased trading during 2020.” Many employees simply left the sector.
But the good news for those who stayed, many supported by associations and networks, is that they are now more adaptable and in a stronger bargaining position with potential employers as the sector recovers. Moreover:
- 75% of UK event planners rated their optimism about the industry at 7 or higher out of 10.
- More than 80% of corporate meeting bookers plan to increase spending this year over 2021 levels. Venues are feeling much more confident about their pricing discussions.
- Even more strongly than in the U.S. market, UK planners are getting away from virtual-only events. 25% plan to do in-person only events in the coming year, with hybrid formats dominating.
There’s much more detail in each the reports cited above. If any of these stats and findings pique your interest, check out the full studies.
Wrapping it all up, event planners, marketers, and attendees alike expect to see a strong rebound in live events in 2022, and even stronger growth in the years ahead. But while demand for in-person gatherings is projected to largely return to 2019 levels within the next 18 months, the landscape will look different.
This is perhaps best summed up by a quote from Neil Thompson of The Delegate Wranglers in the BVA BDRC report: “We’re not going back to 2019, we’re going forward.”