. As Pandemic Persists, Plans for In-Person Events Shift to Q3 2021 | Northstar Meetings Group

As Pandemic Persists, Plans for In-Person Events Shift to Q3 2021

The industry is in a holding pattern as Covid-weary planners hesitate to book – or even attend – live events.

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Even optimistic meeting professionals are growing jaded, as a timeline for pandemic recovery remains elusive. Just a month ago, Northstar's Pulse Survey found that a strong majority of planners (71 percent) intended to resume face-to-face events no later than the second quarter of next year. That number has dropped to 55 percent, with the rest eyeing Q3 or beyond.

"Sadly, most of our events have now completely cancelled, as my clients don't foresee an end to the crisis," commented one of the 690 meeting planners who responded. "The earliest new requests have now been pushed to Q3, but clients are not willing to commit to hotel contracts unless the hotel is offering a way out in case the crisis continues. Neither the clients nor the hotels want to lose any more money, so it's a bit of a standstill."

This latest version of Northstar's Pulse Survey, established in March 2020 to gauge and track the industry's response to the pandemic, was conducted from Oct. 6-21. View the complete research results here, as well as previous findings here.

Following are the latest takeaways. 

We're in a Holding Pattern

Rescheduling or rebooking remains the key task for 36 percent of respondents. Only 18 percent are focused on sourcing or booking new business. Nearly one-third of respondents note they are "not currently focused on live, in-person events." 

Meanwhile, virtual events are increasingly prevalent. Fully 82 percent of planners are working on digital-only events that don't have an in-person component. One in four are planning only all-virtual meetings at present, and another 35 percent say more than half of their events are only online.

Live Events Are Pushed to Q3 2021

When asked when they'll hold their next in-person or hybrid event, Q3 2021 is now the prevalent answer, cited by 29 percent. That's a significant shift from the last survey, when most were eyeing Q2 of next year. In late August, 71 percent of Pulse Survey respondents expected to hold in-person gatherings no later than Q2 2021. That number has since dipped significantly, to 55 percent.

Issa Jouaneh, who founded the event-planning and consulting company Elevadas Inc. in August, sees the same patterns with his clients. "There are no signs of a broad-based recovery or return to 'normal' levels in the Americas and Europe," he said. "Some clients are showing interest in smaller and regional meetings early in 2021," he added, "with a general consensus that larger meetings and events are targeted for Q2 and Q3 2021."

While he's heard buzz about "pent-up demand," Jouaneh has yet to see that resulting in more meetings.

However, a bullish 13 percent will hold in-person events before year-end 2020. "Now is fine, as long as all parties involved follow safety measures and social distancing," said LaToya Williams, manager of global accounts for HelmsBriscoe. "We must get back; safety must be the priority."

Planners Aren't Traveling Either

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Nearly three in four planners (72 percent) do not plan to go to any in-person events this year. That's up from 67 percent when we asked that question a month ago.  

As they plan for future live or hybrid events, planners are most concerned about the continued fear of travel, followed closely by budget constraints, as factors that could deter attendance. 

"The economic damage to many of our clients has been significant, so demand is reduced substantially," commented a respondent. A new hindrance is that corporate clients are asking program participants to sign liability waivers, said the planner, which could make would-be attendees even more hesitant to travel. 

Virtual Events Are a Mediocre Substitute

Are planners confident they can satisfy their clients' objectives with virtual events? The answer is "sort of." On a scale of 1 to 5, their confidence level in virtual events is currently at a 3.13.  Verbatim comments reflect a decidedly uncertain future for virtual events, particularly those that rely heavily on revenue from sponsors or exhibitors. 

"Attendees have 'virtual fatigue,'" noted a respondent. "They don't visit exhibitors/sponsors on the virtual platform, and they don't want to pay to attend. Meanwhile, exhibitors are not seeing the ROI. Because the barriers to entry are so low there is a lot of crap out there, which ruins it for those who have good/decent platforms."

Others see digital events much more favorably. "Meetings are a MUST," one planner commented, "so virtual MUST work!"

We All Need a Break!

Many verbatim comments reveal how tough this year has been for meeting professionals, many of whom expected some semblance of normalcy by now. 

"The fact that we are still dealing with so much uncertainty is disheartening," a planner lamented. "We have to make decisions now for an event that is 6-plus months out, with no obvious path or clear answers. I know the skills I have gained by putting on a virtual event are so beneficial, but I just miss the thrill of an in-person event. Who knew one day I would miss putting out all those little fires?"

Said another, "As an industry we have to work together to be flexible as we all find our way through this maze of new realities."
 
Download the latest results here or see results from previous surveys.

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