The Event Industry’s Recovery Timeline Is Changing: What You Need to Know

Skift Take

The Event industry has entered a new phase of its recovery from the devastation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. While uncertainty remains, there are positive signs that rebuilding can start. 

2020 is a year that the event industry will remember for a long while, and for the worst possible reasons. Events have been among the businesses worst impacted by the crisis.

For a long time and in many cases still to date, there is little clarity about when events will come back. Many in the industry have adopted the slogan ‘The first to go, the last to come back’ to describe how devastating the pandemic was for an industry living through its golden age.

In March, we started a timeline to analyze the impact of the virus on event professionals, forecasting a potential comeback. Through this analysis, we kept mentioning the hope of a breakthrough that would have sped up things.

Today, the news is that, while we haven’t got any breakthroughs in the past five months, we are indeed in a better position compared to where we were then — thanks to many developments in the fight against the virus, the betterment of technology, and entrepreneurship of some event professionals that decided to think creatively.

Therefore, it seems the right time to revisit some of the assumptions that we made back in March, integrate them with research we carried out, and compliment them with global advancements in the fight against the virus.

The objective is to provide event professionals with a factually informed outlook for making decisions about their events and their business. While not foolproof, it is fair to say that our recovery outlook has proven to be accurate so far. We hope this will continue to be the case going forward.

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The Community Knows How To Fight The Virus Better

One essential element to getting our lives back and attending events is a sense of security that needs to be rebuilt in the consumer and business community.

As long as we perceive there to be a risk of dying from complications of the Covid-19 disease, we won’t go out of our homes for entertainment and leisure. Events are often thought to be in this category of need. That is, they are seen to be non-essential.

One would take the risk of getting infected to go grocery shopping but not to attend an event. Even with grocery shopping, online ordering still has a lot of traction with countries such as the UK, which saw online grocery shopping rates covering 75% of its population.

The perception of risking our lives to eat out at a restaurant or go back to school is beginning to fade.

Here are some facts that support this perception:

Other facts may be just misleading the broader population to conclude that things are getting better. Elements such as younger people getting infected, hence less prone to be hospitalized and die. Another factor could be that having better medical recourse just delays deaths; therefore, we have yet to see the full effect of the virus’s resurgence in North America and Europe.

While having a definite opinion about the matters above pertains more to fortune-tellers than analysts, it is fair to say that we are not in the same scenario we were in March and April. There is a sense of knowing what we are facing as an industry. There is more control over the elements that determine the spread.

There are more accessible ways to host safe events, which brings us to the next point.


A Safe Way to Travel and Attend Does Exist

The next three months are crucial for the event industry to start advocating for the only safe(r) way to have meetings happening again: testing.

Many planners are beginning to invest in testing at the door. As in fact, testing technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, planners are creating event bubbles: safe species where an event can happen in the same fashion as we remember them.

Testing at the door is reported to have an 84% accuracy, but the risk is nowhere near comparable to that of trying to enforce social distancing and masks. The past three months have taught us that most people do not respect the rules when given the chance.

Testing everybody at the door may discourage some from attending. They simply would avoid attending altogether. There are also many touchpoints before attending that may expose attendees to risks, including travel.

However, a trend that started to manifest in Europe is testing at the airport. Germany and Italy are just two of the countries testing at major international airports for incoming traffic from highly contagious areas. If these new initiatives become the norm, we could soon anticipate a lesser perception of risk associated with travel.

Testing is a slow process that could speed up significantly if technology progresses.

Of course, the risk remains high for those with underlying medical conditions or above a certain age. This is why hybrid events will be the go-to tactic going forward.


Hybrid Events Are the Future

There is no question that the safest way to host meetings is virtually. Virtual events will not go anywhere for the foreseeable future. This mass exercise in virtual has made many event owners realize that virtual events are a cheaper and more efficient strategy to produce some meetings.

That said, this mass exercise in virtual events has also taught us that we desperately need some live event formats to come back. Virtual failed miserably at replacing them. Trade shows, conventions, incentives, but also academic and association conferences.

Zoom burnout is real, and research is starting to say that all virtual interactions are not as good as the live one. This is a process that even the least science-prone individual can confirm when looking at kids interacting at school versus kids interacting in a virtual environment.

These different lessons teach us that hybrid events that mix live and virtual audiences will be the norm for 2021. Only by the end of next year might we see full events with little or no virtual component (and only if they really have to do without one).

The hybrid dynamic allows us to produce live events in areas with few in-person limitations or community spread and include an initially larger virtual audience. As the limits are lifted for in-person attendees, we can expect the balance to shift towards live.

That is very exciting for a potential comeback, but it also poses many considerations as event professionals will need to produce two events. Many such questions will be answered at our next event.


Budgets and Economic Considerations

Once the environment is safer to meet, there is are crucial questions to ask:

  • Will businesses be able to plan and attend events?
  • Will the industry be able to recover quickly enough after substantial layoffs and business shutdowns?

These are essential items to consider. It’s possible that by the time events are ready to go, the economic impact of the virus will have been so devastating that businesses in some industries simply won’t be able to afford to host meetings.

On the other hand, some verticals have thrived. Tech and healthcare are at their highest performance ever. These sectors could be the ignition to the comeback, pushing new budgets towards the industry.

If that materializes, will the industry be ready to accommodate the surge? Not really at the current state of affairs. Large trade show companies are reorganizing themselves to support small hybrid events, letting go of key staff. That is just one reason it might take them quite a while to go back to supporting large shows as in the past.

It is vital to keep in mind previous bounce backs that the events industry has faced. Flexibility and the reliability of a flexible workforce are intrinsic to the industry. Therefore, some companies may be able to quickly re-staff.


A New Timeline

All the considerations above, combined with a 1,000 event professional research, produced the following update to our original chart.

  • A full recovery to the levels of January 2020, is not to be expected in 2021. The industry will go back to better levels, but the strain of the past months will show. 
  • As new technology becomes available to test and trace, the wider population will feel more confident to go back to live events. This trend will be more visible by January 2021.
  • Hybrid and local events will start to proliferate in the latter part of 2020, with a robust virtual component.
  • A vaccine will materialize by the end of 2020. At that stage, we will reassess the impact.

To keep things simple (and at the risk of oversimplifying all of the above factors), we have updated our chart with a scientific basis for the constant, daily research of analysis within and outside the industry:

In this chart you will find:

  • The level of risk associated with the decision to hold your event at particular times of the year. 
  • The likelihood that things will go back to normal.

You may look at this chart if:

  • You are evaluating whether to host your event in person or online.
  • You are evaluating a hybrid program for 2020 and 2021.
  • You are considering your cash flow estimates for the remainder of the year.
  • You are looking for a job in the event industry.
  • You are evaluating transitioning your career to that of a virtual event planner.
  • You are asking for a loan and are forecasting revenues.

Take our assessment with the necessary grain of salt as this chart is a snapshot of the outlook right now based on the information available.

We will update the chart as more information becomes available and in case of breakthrough events (vaccine, herd immunity or cure).