. Face-to-Face Meetings Will Return This Year, Say Planners | Northstar Meetings Group

Face-to-Face Meetings Will Return This Year, Say Planners

Northstar’s Pulse Survey finds more than 40 percent expect to produce their rescheduled live events this year.

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Look for live meetings to return this year: Forty-one percent of meeting planners expect to hold rescheduled events before year-end 2020, according to the results of Northstar Meetings Group's latest global Pulse Survey.

But while planners are holding out hope, they acknowledge that it won't be easy. "To pull off our upcoming events, managing risk is a much higher priority," said one respondent. "Getting participants and organizations to commit is a higher priority too. We're hopeful that with protocols established and cases under control, we can meet again — even if it's a lot smaller than we expected — before the year is out."

As for newly scheduled events, a growing number of planners – now 79 percent — are choosing dates beginning in 2021, while only 10 percent will wait until 2022 or beyond.

These are among the many signs of optimism expressed by the 484 respondents to the Pulse Survey, which tracks how the global pandemic has affected meeting planners, including their job status, business plans and projections for the future of their events. 

Download the latest results here or see results from previous surveys here. Our current survey is open now, and will close to responses on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

As many states loosen restrictions, more planners — 20 percent — are back in their offices. While a consistent 84 percent of respondents are working full-time, 13 percent remain on furloughs and five percent have left the industry or are unemployed.

Following are other highlights from the June 15 Pulse Survey. 

Still Hesitant to Book

This week's findings show a slight decrease, to 36 percent, in the number of planners booking future business, and a corresponding rise in those researching for future business but not signing contracts (39 percent).

More Difficulty Reaching Suppliers

Two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents are finding it harder than usual to reach suppliers, with an uptick in those calling their experience "very difficult" (55 percent).

Wanted: Relaxed Cancellation Terms

Consistent with previous results, 25 percent of planners anticipate that contracts will allow for cancellation without penalty, and a growing percentage (up from 46 to 51 percent) expect that cancellation terms will be more forgiving when they book future events.

Fewer Meetings in the Future

One-third of respondents expect they'll be planning fewer events after the threat of COVID-19 is behind us, yet results show a slight uptick, to 8 percent, of those who think they'll plan more events going forward, and a decline (from 37 to 34 percent) in those who expect event volume to decrease.

Strong Outlook for Small, Local Events

While respondents consistently anticipate a decline in the volume of international and national events, those dips have improved from previous lows. At the same time, a growing number expect a rise in the number of local events they will plan post-COVID-19.

In terms of event size, the greatest gains are expected in small meetings of 15 to 50, followed by even smaller gatherings of fewer than 15 participants.

Bullish on Resorts and Boutique Hotels

For the first time since the pandemic began, two types of properties — boutique hotels and resorts — are expected to host more business when the threat is behind us than before the crisis.

In all other venue categories, meetings business is projected to be lower in the future. However, results show significantly softer declines in nearly all venue categories, with the greatest improvement in gaming and sports facilities.

Seeking Medical Expertise

In terms of needed products and services, planners' priorities are virtual event platforms, medical education and medical experts, all cited by nearly 80 percent of respondents. This week's findings show a notable rise in interest in attendee-tracking tools, noted by 57 percent of planners.

Top Worry: Travel Restrictions

More than half of respondents fear that business-travel restrictions will prevent people from attending meetings and events, followed closely by concerns about reduced meeting and event budgets, food-and-beverage safety and F&B prices.

Prevailing Safety Measures

More planners are onboard with safety-minded changes. Among the measures they'll put in place to reduce the spread of disease, results show an uptick in every category — with the largest gains in designing spaces to allow physical distancing (cited by 88 percent) and plans to implement temperature checks or other health-screening measures (58 percent).

Weighing Virtual-Event ROI

Confidence is mixed on the effectiveness of digital event platforms. Overall, planners believe such meetings are likely to satisfy attendees, but they are less confident about the value proposition for sponsors.

In Their Words

Verbatim comments from survey respondents shed more light on current sentiments. Among the contributions:

  • "I will consider looking at more secondary and other markets instead of big cities, as long as transportation to/from is adequate."
  • "With large meetings industry conferences like IMEX and CONNECT cancelling, it's hard to convince clients that meetings will be safe and that they should move forward on their face-to-face events."
  • "The uncertainty is unsettling. It will take several years to build the level of trust in having safe and effective in-person events."
  • "In truth, between budget cuts and COVID-19 fears, most of our delegates will not travel until there is a vaccine."

Find this week's full results here.