The $2.5 trillion global event industry has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis. In early 2020, it became clear that the virus was highly infectious, and businesses began canceling events all around the world. Here we are, a couple of months later, and some countries and U.S. states are beginning to open up business leading integrated marketers to ask: what is the future of events, post-COVID-19?
The virus has wrought a lot of reactive change in the industry. Sanitization-hygiene and safety are driving many of the short-term changes (social distancing, cleanliness, etc.), but there were cracks in the sector, pre-dating the pandemic that will influence the future.
Convenience – Large industry events are not very convenient for many attendees. They involve expense, travel, and time off work.
Audience Demographics – Millennials (and to some extent the upcoming Generation Z) demand “experiences,” not just events, driving up event costs that are often passed along to attendees. These digital-first audiences also prize sustainability, customization, and experiences on their schedules.
Lack of Focus – Industry events (as opposed to educational events) often try to appeal to many audiences at the same time, leading to an overwhelming, entertaining, and sometimes awe-inspiring but not necessarily edifying event.
Impractical – Attendees get together to share valuable industry content and share relevant, meaningful information only once a year. But no industry moves that slowly; practitioners need regular access to the latest data from those shaping their field.
During state and local quarantines, we saw many events move online to recoup some of the losses for fully-planned exhibitions and to keep professionals connected. According to Eventbrite, business and professional online events increased 1,100% in April (year over year).
Virtual Events – More businesses are looking to virtual meetups due to safety concerns and the knowledge that they will need to create memorable and valuable experiences. Integrated marketers will need to determine how to make the online version of events feel exclusive and distinctive, without attendees feeling that they have missed out. Popular platforms include vFairs, WorkCast, ON24, Big Marker INXPO, and CISCO WebEx.
Technology – Events and exhibitions were already beginning to embrace technology for registration, mobile apps, and more. Many predict that the use of technology will only continue to grow as younger audiences embrace digital solutions.
Live Streaming & On-Demand – Catering to the audience and speaker schedules, integrated marketers heading up events can use these techniques to present essential content to relevant audiences.
Local Events – In the immediate future, event size will be an essential criterion for events that can move forward. We will see small gatherings of people (up to 50 attendees), continuing to observe the Centers for Disease Control, state, and local guidelines and restrictions.
Hybrid Events – Some experts are predicting a rise in events combining virtual and in-person experiences. These would be comprised of the main event in one location and satellite events in other locations, allowing smaller groups of people to come together and including live chats, chat rooms, and virtual lounges for networking.
Undoubtedly virtual events will never fully be able to replace live event experiences. Humans are social creatures, and there is a thrill that comes with a crowded exhibit hall and the opportunities to learn and network. Large live events offer tactile experiences that are difficult to replicate with on-demand, live streaming, or even Virtual Reality.
However, before COVID-19 virtual events were already on the rise, components were being incorporated into live events. Of all of the possibilities the future holds, we anticipate that a hybrid model will be the longest-lasting, helping to alleviate some of the problems specific to the industry. Attendees can choose which events to spend on and where to save and supplement with specially-created or curated content.
We’re Here to Help
Whatever the future holds for the events industry, know that we are here to help you organize your events, now and in the future. Visit us online or give us a call and let us know how we can help.