The Future of Meetings After the Coronavirus

by | May 8, 2020 | For Organizers

Among meeting and event planners, industry surveys find optimism, uncertainty and adaptability

The COVID-19 crisis has devastated live events in 2020 while also precipitating changes for the future management of meetings and events. In an act of solidarity with our industry peers, Groups360 has reached out to nearly 23,000 meeting and events professionals in hopes of hearing firsthand how each of them were doing and how this situation has impacted them.

During the month of April, our team connected with around 2,000 meeting planners, more than 520 of whom shared their specific experiences about the pandemic’s impact and how they’re approaching future events.

The initial highlights reveal that:

  • 95% responded that events for 2020 have already been impacted
  • 32% had already canceled scheduled events
  • 23% had not yet canceled scheduled events
  • 45% weren’t sure if they would cancel or reschedule

Of the canceled events:

  • 739 events were canceled or being rescheduled
  • 80% of impacted events were scheduled for 2020 Q1 or Q2

Though about half of Groups360’s survey respondents weren’t planning to book or rebook any events in 2020, 17%, or 1 in 5, were planning to book new or rescheduled events. Many event planners expressed intentions to shift from in-person to virtual events or to host hybrid events that blend the two approaches.

The most promising highlight was that respondents said they plan to rebook more than half of their canceled events in late 2020 or early 2021, depending on public health policies and other external factors. In this unsettled era, uncertainty remains the only certainty.

Industry surveys agree on trends

Other industry organizations have conducted similar surveys on the effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on the meetings and events industry.

Northstar Meetings Group, an online platform for business and sports event organizers, reported that meeting planners they surveyed are both optimistic about the return of in-person events but also foresee fundamental changes to the way meetings and events are managed.

According to Northstar’s results, the majority of meeting planners surveyed — 1,045 across the globe — had, as of mid-April, held onto their jobs, and 40% of those were actively sourcing and booking future events. Their survey respondents also said they anticipate fewer large events — those with more than 5,000 attendees — and more smaller meetings consisting of 50 people or fewer. Event planners also reiterated the growing need for virtual components to their events and new health precautions for any events held in person.

PCMA, the world’s largest network of business events strategists, also published an extensive survey taken at the end of March of 1,776 industry professionals, 41% of whom have more than 20 years’ experience in business event management, on how COVID-19 is changing the industry.

Groups360’s survey parallels PCMA’s findings in that 87% of PCMA survey respondents had canceled events and 66% had postponed events due to the coronavirus. Most event cancellations have been concentrated in the first two quarters of 2020, and event planners have only some hope for in-person events during the next six months, particularly in September and into the fall.

According to PCMA, the majority of survey respondents were still deciding about events scheduled for June and July. Optimism among meeting planners increased the further they looked toward 4Q 2020 and early 2021. Of the 1,200 event planners surveyed by i-Meet for their Planner Confidence Index, only 45% expect events to resume in September, while 76% expect meetings to resume by the end of 2020.   

Despite the optimism, hybrid events with virtual components for at least some portions of content seems to be a given for all near-future events. Though the industry is quickly pivoting to virtual, the majority of event planners doubt that digital events will overtake in-person events for the long term.

In a follow-up survey taken April 20, PCMA found that 47% of survey respondents anticipate that smaller local and regional events will take precedence over national and international gatherings.

A new normal

It’s hard to do more than speculate about what meetings and live events will look like once they do resume, but event planners assume that more stringent hygiene practices will become the norm, including the availability of hand sanitizers, signage to address prevention and health policies, and venue space that allows for continued social distancing.