What Changes Can You Expect For Events And Conferences In 2021?
With 2020 firmly behind us, my events and entertainment company set out to discover what businesses can expect for events, trade shows and conferences in 2021. To answer that question, we consulted industry experts, looked at consumer sentiment polls, and read the latest news from the medical community.
First, I’ll share the good news. With multiple vaccines in circulation, the United States could be on its way to herd immunity. Unfortunately, this may not happen as quickly as we’d like — we could return to “some semblance of normality” by mid-fall 2021, according to Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
So with Covid-19 still present, what does that mean for events and conferences in the meantime? My research suggests you can expect more virtual events, hybrid live/virtual events, small in-person events, lower event budgets, outdoor events and health precautions.
Virtual events are likely here to stay. I expect online events to continue to be the main type of event in 2021 until enough people are vaccinated. Dr. Fauci said that if we got 75%-80% of Americans vaccinated over the second quarter of 2021, enough people could be vaccinated to have enough herd immunity to return to some level of normality in the third quarter.
I also expect an increase in fee-oriented virtual events in 2021. In 2020, when many companies changed to virtual and online events, they offered events free of charge as a service to their customer base. However, surveys have shown attendees are willing to pay to attend quality virtual events. Sixty-seven percent of marketers surveyed by Martech Today in 2020 said they would pay to attend virtual events.
Moreover, don’t expect virtual events to stop entirely if we achieve herd immunity. According to Bizzabo research, many event planners (80.2%) love the ability of online events to extend their reach to a wider audience. However, these future virtual events will probably be hybrid events: a mix of virtual and in-person sessions.
I expect to see an increase in hybrid events if crowd restrictions and health concerns ease toward the end of 2021. According to Bizzabo, 97% of marketers believe we’ll see more hybrid events in 2021. Hybrid events satisfy the needs of event planners and audience members to create more access to an event while also satisfying the need for face-to-face interaction.
Small In-Person Events
I also expect smaller audiences at in-person events in 2021. While some trade shows are reportedly scheduling large in-person events in 2021, there are many factors that could limit their size. One factor is local ordinances on crowd sizes. Other factors are fear and caution: Many people will likely refrain from traveling or attending events until they feel it is safe. One December 2020 survey from Security Systems News showed that almost one-third of readers polled already planned not to travel in 2021.
Lower Travel And Event Budgets
There will likely be smaller event budgets in 2021. Due to the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies have lower budgets to book events or to send employees to conferences. According to Bizzabo data, 57% of event professionals believed their event budgets would decrease in 2021. Likewise, as one Forbes contributor explains, many companies will likely cut travel and professional development budgets.
Outdoor And Local Events
Because health and safety are concerns for many attendees, I expect to see more outdoor events and local events. Since the virus may spread more easily indoors, it’s likely the first in-person events of 2021 could be outdoors to help mitigate infection risks. Likewise, people’s fear of getting infected while traveling might lead them to attend more local events.
Finally, I expect more health precautions at events in 2021. Event planners will have to plan for more sanitation to help prevent attendees from getting infected. I think it’s also possible that attendees will have to take Covid-19 tests or show they are vaccinated before attending an event.
Overall, the forecast for 2021 is an improvement over the downturn in 2020. Expect more virtual, hybrid and smaller in-person events. As more people are vaccinated, the end of 2021 could be looking pretty bright for the events industry.
This article was originally published by Forbes on Feb 9, 2021.