EventMB will be hosting its Event Trends Summit 2022 on Wednesday, but what has other industry research predicted for the coming year? To share the top highlights, we review three vendor reports and one association article.
Last Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci noted that the Covid-19 pandemic feels like it’s gone on forever because it has. “It wasn’t supposed to last this long,”, he said, capturing what many of us feel, especially as we struggle to plan for a future that seems entirely unpredictable.
In this context, event planning has become particularly challenging. The need to alter in-person events at the last minute, as we saw with the recent and sudden shift of IBC’s in-person event to virtual, has become an essential requirement for planning.
Over the last month and a half, several reports have come out analyzing current and upcoming trends in the event planning industry. While flexibility and duty-of-care responsibilities in the face of ever-shifting governmental regulations continue to be a major trend changing the shape of the industry, several other key factors have been identified in the reports that we have reviewed to bring you some insights. These include:
1. 2022 Global Meetings and Events Forecast by AMEX
2. Rain and Shine: Events in 2022 by The Vendry
3. The State of Virtual Events 2022 by Kaltura
4. 5 Trends to Watch in 2022 by UFI
Here are six major trends that emerged from the research.
New Emphasis on Attendee and Staff Values Will Drive CSR
While ultimately the client may drive the agenda when planning an event, the attendee experience is what marks its successes (and failures). As three reports noted, many event and meeting professionals are increasingly committed to values like sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion, working with ethical vendors, and incorporating accessibility and mental health support into event design. As the AMEX report notes, meeting these needs requires “deeper focus on the individual needs of attendees, mindfulness, wellness, enhanced use of technology and greater focus on the content design.”
Citing “a new staffing narrative” as one of its top five trends, the UFI post suggested that these values will also help to drive employee retention within the event industry:
“For a generation that is driven by the search for purpose, looking for meaning in their work, wanting to be involved – we can offer them what no other sector can: Being there where the future is taking shape, and being a member of the community that makes it happen.”
Kai Hattendorf, CEO, UFI
Duty of Care for Pandemic Health and Safety
Vaccine rollouts may be changing the game, but health and safety continues to be a major priority.
Ensuring health and safety at in-person events during a pandemic requires a lot of attention to detail, transparency and open communication with attendees, and adherence to health regulations that are constantly changing as the pandemic, well, mutates. The Vendry states that “62% of our respondents found that health and safety was the primary consideration affecting their comfort level planning a live event.” The AMEX survey similarly found that 58 percent of survey respondents chose “confidence in duty-of-care-components for attendee health-and-safety” as one of the most important factors influencing their decision to return to in-person events. A further 55 percent chose “supplier flexibility to adapt to the customer’s meetings and events requirements”, which may in part be a reflection of the need for flexible attrition and cancellation policies — but could equally reflect flexibility in accommodating health policies such as vaccine mandates for staff.
Ultimately, flexible cancellation and attrition policies also help to serve health and safety needs by allowing events to respond adequately to an unexpected surge in Covid cases. Hotels, group airfare specialists, and food and beverage vendors have responded to the increased need for flexibility by providing:
1. Flexible cancellation policies
2. Adaptability to changing attendance possibilities
3. Coverage for the need to provide emergency flights out of a location should health and safety conditions deteriorate during an event
Both the UFI forecast and the AMEX report noted a growing emphasis on sustainability in the industry, but the project is still very much a work in progress.
During COP26, several event organizations and event-related businesses signed the Net Zero Carbon Events pledge, committing to a net zero carbon footprint for events by 2050. With growing awareness of the deeply precarious state of the Earth’s ecosystem in the face of climate change, more and more businesses and their employees are incorporating carbon-footprint goals into their event policies.
Kai Hattendorf, CEO of UFI, pointed to the advocacy work that still needs to be done: “We don’t start this ‘race to zero’ from zero, and we have a strong case to make as an industry that every exhibition that we organise helps to reduce carbon emissions.”
There are several ways that event planners can strategize to keep an event in line with a company’s sustainability values, though there are also significant challenges. It’s simple enough to forgo swag bags, but sourcing locally produced food and beverage goods can be difficult if you are not familiar with the location. In the coming years, there will be an increasing need for industry resources to help fill this knowledge gap.
The AMEX report noted that green certification programs for hotels, like Green Key Global, can help guide venue selection. Still, the systems and rules for monitoring these commitments have not yet been standardized in a global context.
Additionally, calculating a carbon footprint for an event to ensure that it maps on to a client’s sustainability goals can mean tracking down information that is not necessarily readily available. While it may mean extra work, this effort will likely contribute to the sense of connection and satisfaction that attendees will experience at the event. Paying attention to this trend in the initial planning stages of an event will help — as will sharing notes with other event profs who have local or regional information on sustainable vendor partners.
DEI, Accessibility, Ethical Sourcing and Intentional Planning
Additionally, the AMEX report found that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is emerging as part of the “foundational planning” behind event design. Policies are becoming both more granular and more wide-sweeping.
The culture change towards greater equity and accessibility appears to be here to stay — several studies have now found that not only do ethical business values and an active pursuit of corporate social responsibility (CSR) lead to better employee retention and productivity, but that this is often more profitable. As Forbes states, “Ethical business behavior correlates with higher financial returns.”
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and policies are increasingly becoming standard practice for many firms. There are a few ways that this can be incorporated into planning. Actively resourcing suppliers who are majority owned and operated by a member of an underrepresented group is one way to rise to the occasion.
Another is ensuring that the culture of the event reflects these values. This means paying greater attention to the full spectrum of needs that a more diverse group of attendees might present, such as accessibility services and a broader range of presentation topics and speakers.
At the level of programming speakers and events, this may take the form of ensuring that the demographics of featured speakers maps onto the demographics of the audience — by making sure that people from a broad range of backgrounds, gender experience, and ability are taking the stage.
ACCESSIBILITY AND WELLNESS
In addition, access to full participation for people with disabilities is becoming an industry standard — for instance, venues should be able to accommodate anyone with mobility barriers and, when necessary, ASL simulcast interpretation should be provided. A good way to achieve broad accessibility is to ask attendees to identify any accessibility needs they may have when they register.
Accessibility is a value that also applies to mental health needs, and this is another emerging trend in planning. Mindfulness and wellness are being baked into event schedules, with planning reflecting the need that many attendees will have to take time to absorb what they have learned, get the rest that they need without having FOMO, and in some cases, just to get away from feeling overwhelmed by the crowd.
The general trend, then, is to consider attendees as individuals and to welcome them to take care of their whole selves while they’re giving their time to the event. Gathering for a purpose can be a self-care experience in and of itself, when it’s planned intentionally — and The Vendry predicts that in the future planners will “prioritize mental health in both context and design, because events aren’t just a business imperative, but a mental health one too.”
Return on Investment (ROI) and Using Data to Measure Event Success
Events are a big budget affair, and event planners are starting to encounter the expectation that they will work with the client to assess the ROI (return on investment) that they bring.
While traditional metrics like attendance or lead generation continue to be important markers, other tools like surveys and engagement metrics can measure more complex and less direct KPIs (key performance indicators). As the AMEX study notes, “ROI doesn’t always have to be correlated to dollar values” — if, for instance, the event is a training session, ROI could be assessed by quiz scores or a survey of employees after the training has been completed.
As event planners increasingly incorporate the use of purpose-built apps and other supportive digital technologies to improve the client experience, these can also provide significant data that can be analyzed to get a better picture of where client engagement has been most successful. However, this will bring its own considerations, as most attendees will want to know that any data being collected about their participation is done with their knowledge and consent. With the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and California’s CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) enforcing rules to protect attendee data, it is also best practice to develop a comprehensive plan for managing who has access to and control over this data.
Thoughtful Use of Digital Technology to Build Community
The need to pivot rapidly away from an in-person format has fundamentally changed the set of tools that event planners have at hand to forge the connections and experiences that their clients are seeking. As a result, it’s become necessary to bake digital content delivery strategies into the initial planning of any event, whether in-person or otherwise.
These strategies will vary according to the goal of the event. Kaltura’s report looks at this subject in depth, and finds that overwhelmingly, the success of a mode of delivery is based on what it is delivering: “While in-person events focus on networking, virtual events forefront education and thought leadership.” This insight was consistent across both the organizers and attendees that Kaltura surveyed.
Survey Data Backs Rise of Hybrid Events and Year-Round Communities
While Kaltura’s survey found that 73 percent of attendees were satisfied with the experience they had at virtual events, there were clear drawbacks — 55 percent felt that virtual events “feel less personal”, 44 percent that they present “fewer opportunities to socialize”, and 35 percent that they make networking challenging.
While hybrid events are expensive — all of that recording and digital infrastructure doesn’t come cheap — it looks like they are here to stay. 90 percent of Kaltura’s survey respondents agreed that “all large-scale events will be hybrid or virtual” in two years. However, this leads to what is perhaps the most interesting challenge emerging for event planners in the years to come: meeting the increasing demand for connecting intentional, inclusive, values-based communities across a range of event formats and online platforms.
The Vendry reports that half of the event professionals they surveyed described the “creation of community around an event or experience” as the new drive for hosting events going forward. This tallies with the general understanding that in-person gatherings will continue to be a vital tool for building new relationships and keeping existing ones vibrant.
In response to the shift in experience and expectation that the last two years have witnessed, it looks like an emerging strategy is to host large-scale, hybrid events that are reinforced by regional in-person events, where there is less need to negotiate international border regulations and inconsistent pandemic regulations.
As the desire to build communities with shared values and robust continued engagement becomes a clear trend for clients, event professionals have several tools at hand to enhance attendee experience. Planners will strive to continue to create connections, community, and shared understanding even as flexibility in the face of uncertainty remains a necessity.
Are there any other insights that will help event organizers prepare for the coming year? For a broader perspective on 2022’s top event industry trends, register for EventMB’s 2022 Event Trends Summit.