PULSE Survey: Some Planners Are Rescheduling Meetings, but Others Say the Show Must Go On

While new bookings are down and cancellations are up, two-thirds of respondents will hold in-person events this year.


With the recent surge in Covid cases, more planners are cancelling or rescheduling events than they were six weeks ago, according to Northstar Meetings Group’s latest PULSE Survey. However, findings show a slight rise in sourcing and booking activity, and a dip in the number of respondents who are not working on in-person events. 

The second half of the year still looks strong: Two-thirds of the 826 respondents to the latest survey will hold their next in-person event in Q3 or Q4 of this year. Among stepped-up health-safety measures, half will require attendees to wear masks indoors and 28 percent will require proof of Covid-19 vaccination. Resiliency is critical, however, as requirements and policies are changing daily and vary from location-to-location.

Northstar Meetings Group's PULSE Survey, launched in March 2020, captures evolving planner sentiment as the meetings industry responds to challenges brought on by the global pandemic. (See previous results below.) Following are highlights from this month’s research, conducted Aug. 3-16.

New Business Outpaces Delays

For nearly one in four planners, rescheduling and rebooking events is now their primary focus, up from 18 percent in the July cycle. At the same time, more than half (53 percent) say actively sourcing or booking new events is their current priority, up slightly from 51 percent six weeks ago. 

In comparing booking vs. sourcing, the momentum for new booking activity peaked in July at 30 percent, decreasing to 27 percent in this cycle. Meanwhile, those focused on sourcing rose considerably, from 21 to 26 percent. Another positive indicator: The number of planners who are not working on in-person events at all declined from 13 to 10 percent.

Many planners were quick to reschedule, move or cancel meetings over the past six weeks. One-third already have amended their plans for upcoming events while another 18 percent plan to do so. 

Too Quick to Cancel?

“We aren’t seeing anything from a public-health perspective that should cause events to cancel,” says Sue Sung, senior vice president of corporate strategy for Freeman. To demonstrate that point, Freeman will release new research next week that documents how a business event is a safer environment than being in the general public in terms of the Covid risks. “The data from our research should reassure folks and help to guide their event decisions based on facts and data,” Sung added.

A number of verbatim comments echoed that fact. “Over the last 15 months, we have seen that in-person meetings, if handled properly, can be held safely,” wrote one survey respondent.

A healthy pipeline of business indicates that most planners are in agreement, despite the rise in cases and high-profile cancellations. Two-thirds of planners responding to the PULSE Survey will hold their next live event in Q3 or Q4 of this year, which is consistent with the May survey cycle, when momentum for recovery had peaked. One in four will resume live meetings in the first half of 2022.

As Covid Cases Rise, Optimism Wanes 

Though most planners are staying the course on their upcoming events, the rise in Covid cases has brought plenty of concerns. Seventy percent of planners are less optimistic about recovery than they were last month. A majority (59 percent) expect fewer in-person attendees, and nearly one-third anticipate a greater number of virtual participants. 

For events that would have been in-person only, 28 percent of planners now intend to add a virtual component. “We are dual-planning for every in-person event so we can switch to virtual if needed,” noted one respondent. The industry is hoping that won’t happen, of course. Results indicate that the surge in cases has not spurred any additional interest in online-only events.

Proceeding With More Caution

While many planners relaxed Covid protocols this summer, more than half are reinstating or adding new health-safety measures for upcoming events. Interestingly, almost half will implement only what is required by state and local mandates, but many will do more. Fifty percent will require masks indoors, and 28 percent will require proof of Covid-19 vaccination.

“Covid or a variation will be around for years,” said one planner. “Let’s get on with our lives while deploying and practicing good wellness protocols.”

It’s Not Business as Usual

Working with suppliers has been a considerable challenge, and those challenges have grown over the last several PULSE Survey cycles. The most vexing problem: Hotels and venues aren’t adequately staffed, according to more than half of respondents. Also high on the list of gripes: Room rates are higher than expected, contract terms are not flexible enough, supplier contacts are gone, and it’s tough to find the dates and space desired. In this difficult environment, 17 percent have put negotiations on hold for the time being.

Tensions Are Running High

While every circumstance is different, the majority of planners are expressing frustration with the current state of the industry. Verbatim comments reveal a range of experiences, both positive and negative. For example: 

  • “Some hotels are now omitting pandemic language in the contract. We are not willing to use these venues.” 
  • “We've done business for a year in the digital environment. My hotel partners need to be aware that my sleeping-room space is going to decrease but my need for their technology and meeting space is going up. It's not only heads in beds these days. Those heads are sleeping at home.” 
  • “The hotels are being very flexible with the current Delta variant. They are just happy we are coming!”

While many planners are responding proactively, others demonstrate less resiliency. “I am really surprised and disappointed that we are back in this situation again!” commented one respondent. “Frustration and burnout are running pretty high right now,” said another. 

Hanging on for the Ride

Given the nature of the virus, most planners recognize that resiliency and contingency-planning are required. 

“Covid is a roller-coaster and it makes planning for it extremely tough,” noted a respondent. “We have to remain fluid, and that doesn't always translate well when planning events — especially when changes happen at the last minute.” 

•   •   •

July 8, 2021

Face-to-face meetings are the primary focus for meeting planners, per Northstar’s latest PULSE Survey. Download the results.


May 27, 2021

Planners booking live events for this year are finding hotel staffing more worrisome than Covid-19. Download the results.

April 15, 2021

In-person meetings are a priority again. Booking live or hybrid events is now the primary job function of nearly one in five planners, a 50 percent increase since our last survey. Download the results.

March 3, 2021

This is the turnaround we've been waiting for. 81 percent of meeting planners say they will hold their next in-person event sometime this year. Download the results.

January 20, 2021

A new year brings new hopes — and new worries — to meeting and event professionals. Most expect the rollout of vaccines to accelerate our industry’s recovery. Download the results.

November 18, 2020

Planners who intended to hold in-person or hybrid meetings in the near future have adjusted their expectations — again — as Covid-19 numbers continue to rise. Download the results.

October 21, 2020

Even optimistic meeting professionals are growing jaded, as a timeline for pandemic recovery remains elusive. Download the results.

September 15, 2020

Planners have a relatively high degree of confidence in their ability to plan and produce virtual or hybrid events, according to our latest PULSE Survey. Download the results.

August 15, 2020

With coronavirus cases declining in the United States, it's not surprising that our survey reveals slight but encouraging gains in industry expectations. Download the results.

July 15, 2020

With a surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States, meeting planner confidence is waning. Download the results.

June 15, 2020

Look for live meetings to return this year: Forty-one percent of meeting planners expect to hold rescheduled events before year-end 2020. Download the results.

May 19, 2020

Meeting planner optimism about the return of live events is waning; fewer respondents are actively planning and booking meetings. Download the results.

April 21, 2020

The worldwide pandemic has been particularly harsh for the meetings industry, but a deep dive into planners’ individual experiences and expectations reveals that a majority are working on future business and anticipating fundamental changes. Download the results.  

March 31, 2020

No major changes were seen in the distribution of cancellations, postponements and virtual event alternatives. Download the results.

March 17, 2020

As confirmed cases and deaths related to the coronavirus have continued to rise in the U.S. and worldwide, it comes as no surprise that the results of our PULSE Survey reveal a pronounced shift in meeting planners’ actions and attitudes. Download the results.