. Planners Report Increased Optimism, but Fear Remains the Biggest Obstacle | Northstar Meetings Group

Planners Report Increased Optimism, but Fear Remains the Biggest Obstacle

Northstar's latest Pulse Survey results also show that more local and regional events will be planned.

nmg pulse august 2020

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With coronavirus cases declining in the United States, it's not surprising that Northstar Meetings Group's latest Pulse Survey reveals slight but encouraging gains in industry expectations.
Comprised of more than 800 planner responses from around the world, with just over 80 percent of them responsible for events in the United States, the Pulse Survey shows that planners are generally confident and rebooking activity is on the upswing. However, far fewer planners are expecting to produce in-person events in 2020, and most planners believe the second quarter of 2021 is the earliest they are likely to produce such gatherings. Fear remains the biggest obstacle; not just fear of travel, which impacts the viability of business events, but also the fear that uncertainty brings.
Highlights from this research cycle include:

  • Booking and sourcing activity has increased since the last PULSE Survey, albeit slightly.
  • Planners are generally confident. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being most confident, planners' confidence level for their immediate future averages 6.25. There is no material difference in confidence levels across regions and among planners responsible for meetings in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and Asia.
  • Local and regional events, and events of 100 or fewer attendees, have gained favor, as planners indicated they will plan more of them next year.
  • Boutique hotels and resort properties currently are the most favored venues for near-term meetings.
  • On-site technology tools are growing in interest relative to virtual, indicating a growing confidence in the return of physical events.
  • Face masks and other safety protocols are now accepted as "industry standards," but testing — either on-site or prior to events — is not seen as a requirement.
  • Planners are accepting digital events as solid options, and that they need to make virtual events an ongoing component of their portfolios. They are beginning to gain confidence in the business potential for virtual events.

Download the latest results here or see results from previous surveys.

Clearly, the meetings industry is in a state of flux. Confidence levels for the near-term future ebb and flow with Covid-19 case levels, with business-travel restrictions and with the perception of the value of in-person events compared to virtual alternatives. Most respondents agree those alternatives not only are here to stay, but also will improve over time. One takeaway is unanimous: As soon as it is possible, planners want to get back to meeting face-to-face again.

Webcast: The Pulse of the Meetings Industry
Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020 2:00 PM EDT
Are planners starting to book in-person meetings? If so, where and in what format? How have their priorities changed? Find out the answers to these questions and more during the next Pulse of the Meetings Industry live webcast.

"I do believe we’ve started to see a turn in the negativity over the past five to six weeks, and more of an opening and positivity, and a push toward hosting events that are already scheduled," said Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International. "However, planners might be more open to hosting or encouraging live events because it's what we do. We recognize the need and value of live events, the innovation and creativity that comes from them. We're benefitting from the quick dive into hybrid events, but we're also seeing the limitations."
"I think people are still very much trying to figure out their own organizational priorities as they relate to their workforces," said Amy Calvert, CEO of the Events Industry Council, the umbrella organization that represents more than 30 member industry associations. "I would be cautiously optimistic. I think organizations are very much wanting to get back to the business of meeting face-to-face again; people are feeling a bit burnt out on this whole Zoom endeavor."
As planners have had to learn how to move their events online, 76 percent of respondents said they are anticipating the need to provide virtual alternatives concurrently with physical events in the future. As one respondent commented, "There is no longer a 'going back to normal.' I'd like to be part of shaping the 'new normal,' but I don't know where to begin."

See past results
Since launching in March, Northstar's survey has helped industry professionals worldwide understand what planners and event organizers anticipate as we work to achieve recovery. See results from previous surveys here!

That "new normal" is already here, as evidenced by the growing numbers of virtual events already being produced worldwide, and the overwhelming majority of planners who report they will require virtual platforms for the foreseeable future, according to the latest Pulse Survey results.
Already employers are looking for planners with experience in this area. Dawn Penfold, president of MeetingJobs.com, an industry job board, recently received notice of two planner openings — the first such listings since the lockdowns began — both of which require candidates to have skills related to producing hybrid face-to-face and digital events.
NMG's Pulse Survey, launched in March 2020, 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.

Following are additional findings from the Aug. 25 Northstar Meetings Group Pulse Survey.


The vast majority of respondents to the current survey (84 percent) still are employed, with 62 percent working remotely and 22 percent working from their offices. Those surveyed also report that their current focus continues to be on rescheduling events (55 percent), while many are researching potential new events but not ready to issue an RFP or lead (29 percent). Just over 10 percent of the sample has been furloughed to some degree.


In our July 15 survey, just 25 percent of meeting planners were expecting to hold rescheduled events this year, down from 40 percent in the June 17 cycle. Only 16 percent now expect to produce live meetings or events for the balance of the year. The second quarter of 2021 is seeing the most action, as 34 percent of planners working on rescheduling are moving events there, and 22 percent are working on new meetings for Q2. The first quarter of 2021 also is seeing plenty of activity, as 23 percent of those surveyed are rescheduling meetings then, along with 21 percent of those working on new events.


Planners acknowledge they need to make digital gatherings an ongoing component of their portfolios, as 76 percent of those surveyed said they will require virtual-event platforms for the foreseeable future. As more is being learned about virtual events, more planners are gaining confidence in their business potential.


Face-mask requirements and safety protocols are accepted as "industry standards" now — 77 percent of those surveyed say they are now requiring face coverings for all — but testing for the virus, either on-site or prior to events, is not seen as a requirement.


In verbatim comments, some planners showed enthusiasm for the changing nature of the industry.
As one planner said, "This is an exciting time in our industry. We can finally showcase the strategy that should have existed all along. The folks who think of themselves as 'planners' might not have a future here. But the folks who think of themselves as strategic advisors and producers will thrive."
And some noted they have been able to host in-person events successfully, taking all the necessary precautions:
"I just held my annual event with significant safety protocols in place. It worked," was one comment.
"We just hosted an annual local meeting," reported another planner. "We capped attendance to allow for 6 feet of social distancing, temperature checks, waivers and masks. We received nothing but compliments and there have been no Covid cases reported.

Download the full report here.