2021 Live events?: What Event Professionals should be considering when planning.
Many will consider 2020 to be the year we do not mention, especially for those in travel, events and hospitality. The immediate go to of virtual events and incentives is now proving more a necessary tool than a prefered option...with the exception of certain sectors where it has likely changed their event landscape permanently.
In the recent trend report published by IBTM. It showed that regardless of the appetite of businesses and individuals to attend business events, one of the main factors is whether these events are physically able to take place. So can event professional plan with any real confidence live events in 2021?
The report stated that by far the biggest impact on the industry was the global lockdown that has dominated 2020, and the lack of travel allowed on a local, national and international level.
The lockdown led to an almost blanket cancellation of all in-person meetings and, for many, a scramble to switch to digital formats. As alluded to by both MPI and PCMA, for many of these events, cancellation started as postponement. Meetings were delayed by weeks and months but, as the severity of the pandemic started to dawn on organisers, more drastic measures were taken. This gradual erosion in confidence indicates a second micro trend; cancellation policy.
Very early on in the lockdown, both Facebook and Microsoft publicly announced a postponement of all major events until spring 2021. At the time, this blanket statement seemed extreme and destabilising for the industry; now they look to have been ambitious event with these predictions!
Our conversations clients and our suppliers changed across the year. From contracts and liability, safety, rules and regulations in destination and again whether venues with the restrictions were even able to host the event. Throughout 2020 and into 2021, planners are less able to provide anything absolute to venues. We spoke regularly with suppliers, but could not confirm with any certainty dates or numbers of delegates for live events. Work and discussions will need to be swift and flexible on both sides moving forward with a likelihood of shorter lead and turnaround time as we return to live events.
Large events both international and domestic will find this process even more complex. As the report explains, "The global travel trade has been equally affected by the pandemic. Airlines, from budget to premium, have either been bailed out by local governments or entered liquidation; the Business Insider magazine reported in March 2020 that some 26 airlines had already gone out of business. Equally though, the dynamics of the industry will have changed forever; the way delegates travel, the options open to travellers, and the security of the booking, specifically across national borders, have all been reviewed. Long term bookings are less secure as different territories open up and lock down, liabilities towards the customer have changed again, and increased checks are in place and will continue well into 2021. How this affects delegate conversion on the day of an event will need to be factored into the cost of the event and how it caters for fluctuating, and uncontrollable, sizes of delegations."
There is no doubt that larger events, conferences and forums will make a live return this year. We will continue with the virtual offering for the best part of Q1 and Q2 and migrate to hybrid Q2 into Q3. We could then see the real possibility of a return at the back end of Q3 into Q4 to what we will all recognise and welcome as live events. By this time we should have seen sufficient time for vaccinations, confidence back into the market and the industry to pick itself up and dust itself down. Let's face it, we have taken an absolute battering and these wounds need to be healed. It's not a case of clicking our heels together 3 times and we are back where we were!
So should we, can we, as event professionals realistically plan for live events in 2021? Well yes, of course we can. Things have already changed from what we were planning and predicting just last month. From the current news on vaccinations and restrictions we are already in discussions to push back once more some of our events we had planned for Q2 this year. However, taking data as we now have it, admittedly this seems to change week on week. But we are planning with some confidence FAMs, site visits, incentives and smaller scale meetings and events for the very end of Q2 and into Q3.
This is a little later than we had discussed with suppliers at IBTM, Wyred World and a few other industry conferences. But there is no reason not to think that live events up to 100-150 people should be able to operate by the summer. So this opens the door again especially to the incentive market. It also allows other events such as charity fundraisers, awards, product launches and educational forums to come back albeit in some cases scaled down from their original incarnations.
We are all missing social interaction both personally and professionally. While we need to hold tight just that little bit longer. It can and should be that we have discussions and plan for a return to live as and when you are ready. Not see it as the impossible dream to be kept under wraps and not dare to be mentioned!