Omicron Variant Hasn't Slowed New Event Bookings

Planners whose primary focus is booking new events reaches a two-year high, Northstar's latest PULSE Survey finds.

Northstar Meetings Group PULSE Survey 12-9-21

Since the pandemic began, Northstar Meetings Group has been surveying event planners as the industry fluctuated with new surges of Covid-19. This final PULSE Survey of 2021, which was in the field before and after the Omicron variant was identified, indicates the new strain has not had the same impact that the arrival of the Delta variant did. At least, not yet. In fact, while the percentage of planners overall reporting their primary activity is booking new events reached a midpandemic peak, there was no material difference in activity between planners who responded before the Omicron variant made news and those who responded after.  

The current cycle’s survey results, based on 615 planner responses collected from Nov. 23 to Dec. 8 (223 planner respondents before November 28th, when Omicron first made news, and 392 planner respondents after), are presented and compared to previous cycles and are available free for download.

While new booking activity is stronger than ever, well above the previous high in May before the Delta variant cropped up, only 15 percent of planners now say their primary focus is rebooking and only 9 percent report they aren't focused on in-person events at this time, both new lows.

The Omicron variant did have an impact on some events, however; 20 percent more planners reported they altered their plans for their upcoming events than before the news broke. Still, since October, far fewer planners reported recently delaying, rescheduling, moving or cancelling meetings.

These PULSE Survey data are consistent with what other researchers are learning. Kristi White, chief product officer for hospitality data-insights firm Knowland, has no plans to change their projections for 2022 as a result of the Omicron variant. "We stay in touch with hotels and meeting planners as part of our forecast process," she said. "Anecdotally, we are not hearing about wholesale cancellations or a slowing of bookings." (Knowland's projections for the meetings industry in the new year are outlined in Northstar’s 2022 industry forecast round-up.)

When are planners producing their next events? For many, the meetings are underway as you read this. With only a few weeks left, nearly 30 percent of planners are producing their next event before year-end. More than half will produce their next event before July 2022, indicating meetings calendars will be very busy over the next seven months.

Also reaching new lows are the number of planners who are planning online-only events. Forty percent report they’re currently not producing any online-only events, a new high and more than double the number of planners who were not producing any digital-only events at the beginning of the year. That doesn’t signal that digital events won’t play a meaningful role in the meetings industry’s future, though. A new research study recently conducted by Northstar in collaboration with event-tech provider Hubilo measures how technology has impacted planners during the pandemic and provides insight on their event-tech investment plans over the years to come.  

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 other takeaways from this month’s research.

What Keeps You Up at Night?

Concern for participants’ safety has begun to ebb but it’s still the primary reason for changing event plans, followed by low or declining registration and participants not wanting to travel.  

For the first time since the pandemic began, among a multitude of planner concerns, indirect pandemic-related factors outweigh direct factors. When asked what concerns them most, planners report that higher costs are now more vexing than government mandates and fear of contagion. When asked about the current dynamics with hotels and venues when planning for future meetings and events, planners report higher costs are now as challenging as their supplier partners’ lack of staffing. Both problems have become considerably more difficult since the last survey cycle in October. 

Safety in Numbers

A little over half of the PULSE survey's respondents (53 percent) still expect to adhere to protocols required by the state and local governments of their event destinations. Mask fatigue is evident, as just 37 percent of those surveyed said their organizations will be requiring attendees to wear face coverings indoors, compared with 48 percent in October.

Some planners are continuing to require tests (15 percent), proof of vaccination (28 percent) or both (19 percent), but organizations might want to reevaluate this stance. When asked what he advised for making meetings as safe as possible, risk-management expert Bruce McIndoe, president of McIndoe Risk Advisory LLC, said requiring attendees to be vaccinated is the way to go. Speaking at NMG's recent Destination Hawaii event, which just wrapped up at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, McIndoe said, "Vaccinations protect people. That has to be absolutely at the top of the list, and you have to define what it means to be vaccinated now. Right now it's a three-dose sequence for the RNA vaccinations."

Verbatim comments showed many groups are waiting until closer in to make the final decisions on health and safety measures. "My company is constantly assessing the pandemic and what measures we will need to have in place. As we get closer to our actual meeting dates, decisions will be made based on the then-status of the pandemic," said one respondent.

Variants, mandates and advocacy for vaccinations like McIndoe’s notwithstanding, planners’ support for proof of vaccination to participate in meetings industry events remains largely unchanged since the last survey cycle. Fifty-seven percent support the industry’s position, down from 58 percent two months ago. Some are not sure (14 percent), while others’ support is conditional (7 percent).

Looking to 2022

While Covid-19 worries still are on the minds of planners, a more "normal" concern has come back to the fore as the most important factor for the in-person and hybrid events they are now planning. Fully 80 percent of those surveyed said return on time/experience/investment for attendees, exhibitors and other participants is the most important factor for them when planning their events today. Covid-safety protocols was next, at 70 percent, followed by ROI for the host organization (65 percent) and cost containment (61 percent).

Respondents are all over the Covid map when asked to comment about their concerns going forward, and some just want civility to return. One remarked, "As people start traveling again, it is not the fear of travel I am concerned about, it is how to encourage people to be 'human' again — enjoy the networking, the time to be together."

Said another, "We live in an ever-changing world. It would be a welcome relief if we could get back to respecting one another and have less condemnation of one another if personal opinions are different."



EARLIER PULSE SURVEY FINDINGS

 

October 7, 2021

Over the past two months, nearly two-thirds of meeting planners have delayed, rescheduled, moved or cancelled an in-person meeting or event. Download the results.


August 19, 2021

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


 

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.