As Covid-19 cases skyrocket and vaccine plans lag, the event industry is set to face a difficult start to the new year.
When EventMB first asked its readers in 2020 when they expected a return to business, over 75 percent answered that the industry would be back to normal by the first quarter of 2021 at the latest. At this point, it is fair to say that this scenario is impossible.
Subsequent surveys shifted the comeback to the second quarter and then to the third quarter. The point is that event professionals have been hoping for a prompt comeback, and the summer was starting to give positive signs of a bounce back, but that ended as soon as the second wave hit — something we anticipated in our Coronavirus Outlook several months ago.
The rollout of the vaccine is adding further uncertainty to an industry already brought to its knees. When, in fact, we outlined the vaccine’s impact to a comeback, countries were bullish on a swift rollout. This is not the case in pretty much all geographies other than Israel, the only country able to administer the vaccine to a large percentage of its population.
The US, UK and Europe are struggling to keep up with their plans; meanwhile, the virus is accelerating. A new, more contagious strain of the virus is in fact skyrocketing the case counts in many countries, increasing the pressure on hospitals.
We are not epidemiologists, and it’s never been our objective to speculate on the direction of the virus, but it is fair to say that the news above is not good for the event industry. The least we can expect is further delays for a normalization of the situation.
Many of the trends that impact business events outside of the industry are in fact still happening. Companies are still invested in working from home, business travel is still low, hotel occupancy (when not banned by local authorities) is definitely low.
Is it all bad news then?
The start of 2021 is uphill but the good news is that the industry has managed to generate some case studies showing how to go back to in-person meetings once contagion numbers decrease. In other words, the industry will be ready to go back to business faster than it was in May 2020.
Virtual remains the only option for those events who cannot afford to go hybrid or in-person. The good news there is that many event professionals are now getting the hang of virtual. More success stories are being shared and our data confirms a positive evolution of how strategic virtual events are becoming.
The more time passes without in-person events, the more we collectively realize their importance. Despite many forecasting the imminent death of the industry, the reality is that in-person events will kick back hard once they will have a proper chance to do so.
So what’s ahead?
The damage the last year has brought to the industry is undeniable. Many businesses shut down, many event brands canceled their gatherings. This is not a sustainable scenario for many.
The loss of talent is visible, many are transitioning to other industries after running out of reserves, loans, and furlough schemes.
Those who transitioned to virtual or managed to keep operating somehow will definitely thrive towards the second half of the year.
It’s by no means time to give up hope. The roll-out of many vaccine candidates is the gift the event industry has been hoping for.
The start of the comeback continues to be rocky, but remains the beginning of the end of a difficult time — one that taught us life lessons that surely will be cherished for years to come.