The beginning of the pandemic produced unprecedented challenges for the events industry. From multi-national companies to local markets, all businesses that relied on in-person meetings were staggered and faced heavy losses. With country-wide lockdowns, there was an obtrusive question in front of every event planner: Is the future of events in danger? However, recent trends in event technology have proven the industry’s adaptability and resilience.
The events industry pushed through 2020 by quickly pivoting to virtual events. Organizations embraced the benefits of event technology within a span of weeks, which would otherwise have taken years. According to a GBTA study, 2020 saw a 290% spike in hosting virtual events as compared to 2019; 93% of respondent companies held at least one virtual meeting in 2020. Hardly anyone could have foreseen such a swift and heavy dependence on event technology before the pandemic.
The bottom line: the events industry adapted and transformed itself and emerged more powerful than ever. Today, the industry has not only remained successful in the in-person events space but now carries the power and agility of virtual and hybrid events as well.
The Latest Trend: Virtual Events
Before the pandemic, in-person events provided an ocean of opportunities to network, build meaningful connections, and interact with attendees and sponsors. Once things went virtual, a new and unique audience emerged: people who could now attend events that were previously inaccessible to them. With the click of a button, they could step into a virtual experience they couldn’t have experienced before.
On average, companies held 125 virtual meetings in 2020 as compared to merely 32 in 2019, according to the GBTA study. Virtual events not only helped achieve the same goals as in-person events, they presented an added advantage of connecting to a broader audience, wiping away travel and venue costs.
When Event Technology Saved the Day
The rapid transformation of the events industry wasn’t possible without the adoption of event technology. Marketing leaders and planners quickly embraced and leveraged a new mindset and skillset almost overnight to keep the wheels turning, committing swiftly to digitalization.
When GBTA members and non-members were asked if they want to use technology to advance virtual meetings, it’s no surprise that the majority were “interested” or “very interested” in the idea. Respondents were particularly keen to leverage event technology for virtual conferencing, online registration, post-event attendee surveys, lead tracking, live polling, and event mobile apps.
Clearly, technology is indispensable in the new world of events. Features like live polling, interactive Q&A using event apps, and appointment scheduling tools are now commonly used by attendees and planners alike. In addition to being useful tools in and of themselves, these technologies have the added benefit of boosting active engagement and interaction. Post-event features like surveys, live feedbacks, and built-in lead tracking are also vital solutions, allowing organizations to measure ROI of their virtual events.
Will Virtual Events Go Away in Future?
Virtual events opened the world to new possibilities, offering previously impossible advantages to event attendees and planners. Suddenly, attendees could check in at an event from the comfort of their homes, and with registration and attendance just a click away, attendee numbers quickly spiked. When survey respondents were asked about the effectiveness of virtual events before and after the pandemic, their perception of virtual events had drastically improved.
While attendees are now comfortable with virtual events, a large majority still prefer in-person events. According to the GBTA study, 76% of respondents now feel in-person meetings are typically “somewhat more effective” or “much more effective” than virtual meetings, as compared to 96% prior to the pandemic. While in-person events do still have an upper hand, this number is much lower since the pandemic, and the number of people who believe virtual events are just as effective as in-person events increased from 3% to 19%. Event planners and marketers have now tasted the power of events technology, and virtual events are very much here to stay.
Say Hello to Hybrid Events
As COVID-19 infections drop significantly and governments ease travel restrictions, everyone’s excited to be able to connect and network in-person with the added advantage of attending events remotely when more practical. Viola! We now have hybrid events in the mix. Just like virtual events took center stage in 2020 and most of 2021, hybrid events are forecasted to be the next big trend.
What Are Hybrid Events?
Simply put, hybrid events combine the best elements of hosting in-person and virtual events, and they are accessible to all, regardless of COVID-19 restrictions. While some regions now allow public gatherings, others may still not be open for domestic or international travel. In such cases where travel is restricted, hybrid events provide an opportunity for multi-venue events, allowing for multiple in-person audiences.
With a hybrid event model, attendees can attend events virtually, from multiple locations in-person, or both. The ratio of one audience to the other doesn’t really matter because a hybrid event is created to connect multiple audiences to one event.
Are Hybrid Events the Future?
The GBTA study suggests that seven in ten companies had never hosted a hybrid event before the pandemic. During the pandemic, the high risk of infections held companies back from experimenting with hybrid events as well. As things return to normal, three in five companies now expect to hold at least one hybrid meeting in 2021.
This increased interest in hybrid events can be attributed in part to the ease of access to events for a variety of audience types, as mentioned above. Hybrid events could also become a more popular option, though, because of the increasing awareness of and push for sustainability.
Recently, large multinational organizations have pledged to reduce their carbon footprints and are aligning their goals to meet that agenda. With the idea of sustainability fueling innovation, multi-venue events would mean different audiences can attend events from their nearest locations, therefore reducing business travel and, ultimately, carbon emissions.
Hesitations About Hybrid Events
While most organizations are excited to host hybrid events, they also have certain fears and hesitations. In the GBTA study, when companies were asked to elaborate on these hesitations, they highlighted the following:
Lower attendee engagement due to complexities in networking with virtual audiences (55%)
Foreseeable difficulties in planning and execution of hybrid events (38%)
Hybrid events won’t be as effective in meeting organizations’ goals (27%)
Lack of technologies and technical support to host hybrid audiences (22%)
Hybrid events are expensive to host (18%)
While there are understandable fears surrounding any new type of event, the concept of combining virtual and in-person events is not new. The above fears seem to include a lot of misconceptions about hybrid events.
Organizations must remember that hybrid events are a balancing act between delivering two experiences and hosting a single event. Even if most organizations have not hosted hybrid events before, there is little to fear; technology today is more powerful than ever, and hybrid events are on their way to taking over the industry.
Will Technology Save the Day Again?
In the GBTA study, over half of the companies highlighted attendee engagement as the topmost challenge with hybrid events. Organizations are apprehensive about remote attendees not being able to network with in-person attendees, participate in education sessions, and visit expo booths, to name a few. They fear that such challenges might mean lesser engagement and event value.
Thanks to technology solutions, hybrid events have the power to engage virtual attendees as much as in-person attendees. While in-person attendees can raise their hands and speak, virtual attendees can use a live chat feature to ask questions and share insights. Other features like attendance tracking, lead tracking, and mobile apps allow attendees to connect with exhibitors virtually and exchange contact information.
The Recovery of In-Person Events
While it’s a long road to the return of in-person events, most meeting and event planners are optimistic about what the state of in-person events will be by early 2022. According to the GBTA study, 67% of companies expect the industry to recover by Q1 2022, with 52% of respondents expecting simple meetings (attendee count 50 or lower) to return within a year. Larger events and conferences could take two to three years to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to most respondents.
Will In-Person Events Ever Be the Same?
Technology has given a fresh pair of eyes to event hosts. Virtual events brought a massive learning curve for event planners and marketers, and these lessons will play a monumental role in defining the shape of future events. When in-person meetings return, they will look much different than before; there will be an added priority of health and safety measures and operational changes for venues.
For instance, organizations are now planning to include pandemic-related Q&A in RFPs for venue sourcing. These could include sanitation and hygiene planning, disaster recovery and outbreak response, food preparation practices, staff training, AV infrastructure, etc. The most crucial factors will be a venue’s requirements for mask-wearing, the maximum number of people allowed in a room, and social distancing requirements.
In the GBTA study, several factors were highlighted while discussing pandemic-related operational transformations:
83% of companies said attendees should currently be required to wear masks
73% were interested in requesting attendees to provide their health information (for instance, showing negative COVID test results)
72% wanted attendees to undergo temperature screening or thermal scanning while checking into an event
47% were interested in allowing only vaccinated attendees to attend their events
Will Vaccinations Play an Important Role?
According to data collected by Bloomberg, more than 3.25 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered across 180 countries. That’s enough to fully vaccinate about 21% of the world’s population. In the U.S., more than 330 million vaccine doses have been rolled out.
These numbers are increasing daily, and as nations continue to accelerate their vaccination efforts, international travel is slowly resuming operations. However, travelers may face mandatory vaccination or COVID-19 testing requirements depending on their itineraries. Similarly, meeting and conference hosts could require attendees to present vaccination certificates, and in the GBTA study, 47% of companies said they are interested in requesting such certifications from attendees.
Event Technology Is the Answer
Marketers and event planners have always relied on technology to manage the complex areas of event planning, including venue sourcing, RFP issues, registration, surveys, and more. Because of the pandemic, however, the reliance on technology is more prominent than ever. The pandemic threw unique challenges at events professionals, and our industry countered with the best technology at hand – even creating new technology.
Here’s how the events industry continues to adapt to the pandemic:
Venue Sourcing Technology: Venue sourcing platforms have quickly stepped up their game to accommodate information on hygiene and sanitation best practices at hotel chains and independent venues. Some have also modified their Q&A in RFPs to include pandemic-related questions and protocols, which can help planners immensely.
Event Diagramming Software: Planners now use event diagramming software to create realistic room setups that meet social distancing guidelines or to take virtual tours of venues.
Minimum In-Person Interaction: Technology helped automate most tasks that previously required human interaction. For example, check-in kiosks and mobile apps help attendees check in, schedule appointments, and network.
Other Tech Applications: Companies today are leaning toward replacing paper guides and maps with multi-functional mobile apps and check-in kiosks and encouraging attendees to network and set up appointments with instant messaging apps.
As different industries recover from the pandemic, corporate meetings and events will continue to evolve and adapt with the aid of technology. In-person meetings will eventually come back, but until then, virtual and hybrid meetings are the stars of the show. As you plan your next event, take the time to research and invest in event technologies, trainings, and tools that will help you stay ahead of the game.