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. However, very few are focused on booking in-person events at present, per Northstar Meetings Group’s latest PULSE Survey, released today.
Given the events of Jan. 6 in the nation’s capital, there’s more concern about civil unrest affecting meetings. Interestingly, when in-person events resume, only two out of three of this month’s 812 survey respondents plan to require masks or other safety protocols.
Northstar’s PULSE Survey, launched in March 2020, captures evolving planner sentiment as our industry responds to challenges brought on by the global pandemic.
Find the latest results here; and previous findings here.
Click here to take our current survey
The year is off to a slow start for in-person events — much slower than planners expected in mid-2020. Just 10 percent plan to meet in Q1 2021, a steep decline from our June 2020 PULSE Survey, which showed nearly 40 percent of respondents expected their face-to-face meetings to resume this quarter. More than half (56 percent) are now aiming for the second half of the year.
The majority (36 percent) of planners are still focused on rescheduling and rebooking events. New bookings remain scarce; in fact, nearly 30 percent report they are not actively working on live events. However, findings show a slight uptick, from 10 to 12 percent, in those for whom sourcing and issuing RFPs is a top priority.
Should We Have Hope?
Three out of four planners see the rollout of vaccines as a major turning point for our industry’s recovery. Just 10 percent disagree, and the rest are undecided.
Hopes are dimmer regarding the latest federal stimulus package. Only 22 percent think those funds speed economic recovery for our industry; the rest say it won’t make a difference (31 percent) or they’re unsure (47 percent).
It’s no surprise that PULSE Survey respondents’ myriad concerns remain high, especially fear of contagion, travel budget constraints and meeting budget constraints, but all of these fears have abated somewhat. New and rising concerns cited by planners in the latest survey include geopolitical issues, civil unrest and crime.
The attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the same day this survey opened, clearly influenced responses. For the first time since the PULSE Survey launched last March, a number of planners provided unsolicited comments about how civil unrest might impact their events. “I’m worried that people will be wary of in-person gatherings of any size for a very long time, both due to Covid and civil unrest,” wrote one respondent.
Another noted: “Covid is only one issue we are dealing with right now. The potential of violence or disruption from radicalized groups is quickly becoming every bit as significant and has the potential to further harm the meetings industry.”
Safety First? Maybe Not
When they do hold in-person events, only 66 percent of planners say they’ll require masks and adherence to health-safety protocols. While some might be rejecting the science, others are likely delaying their meetings until the threat of contagion has eased. One planner, in a verbatim comment, opined that Covid-19 will be “behind us” by Q3 2021.
Among those taking more cautious measures, 22 percent will require proof of a recent negative test, and 21 percent will request proof of vaccination. These findings suggest that if vaccine efficacy and distribution don’t meet expectations, event planners will need some inspiration to reconsider testing as a viable and perhaps necessary option to support safe meetings.
Verbatim comments reveal widely differing opinions on the need for safety protocols, ranging from “We will have none, or whatever the crazy local governing ‘elected’ officials decide is ‘safe’ — ridiculous!” to “We will not meet in person until these measures are not needed.”
Hybrid Is on the Horizon
While only 21 percent of respondents are currently planning hybrid events, another 52 percent intend to or are considering holding events with both live and virtual audiences. Just one in four aren’t weighing this option.
Meanwhile, confidence in the effectiveness of virtual meetings has declined by 5 percent month over month. On a scale of one to five, with five as the highest level of confidence, the average index stands at 2.81.
We’ll Stay Home
Fewer planners will attend in-person meetings themselves over the next three months. In fact, 76 percent will decline such opportunities, up from 71 percent in November. But most planners still think meetings industry organizations should meet if safety protocols are followed and enforced.
Nearly one in three say definitively that we should not be holding in-person events. One respondent commented: “If the industry cannot see the data, the damage and the death before us, how can they be trusted partners?”
View and download the latest PULSE Survey results here.