What’s next? The future of meetings

published on April 27, 2020
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Even though the industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, professional meeting and event planners are looking to the future with hope and an unshakeable determination to get back to business, safely and realistically. Many surveys have been done in the past weeks to take the pulse of the industry and understand how event professionals see the way forward. Here are some of their insights.

What planners and suppliers are saying

Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) has been conducting a series of surveys of business event industry professionals and suppliers over the past weeks.

Among planners, while 57% of respondents say their employment is unaffected, many are seeing salary reductions or lay-offs of other team members. Plans for upcoming meetings are still up in the air, with seven out of 10 respondents looking to virtual alternatives. The expectation seems to be that, despite an initial hesitancy to travel for meetings after the crisis, there will be a pent-up demand to meet face-to-face, even if meetings are smaller and more local. Many planners are using this time to learn new skills, especially those related to virtual event strategies and online platforms.

Among suppliers, only 25% of respondents say their employment is unaffected, with most experiencing reduction in salary or lay-offs. Many expect to see signs of recovery in September but feel it will be 12 to 18 months before the industry is back to 2019 levels. Almost half of suppliers anticipate a hesitancy to travel, but about 30% felt that there will be a pent-up demand for face-to-face meetings.

A little good news: according to a recent Northstar Meetings Group's Pulse Survey, conducted from April 14 to April 21, the majority of planners are working on future business and U.S. respondents are most optimistic about an early return to business, although large meetings and venues are expected to see sharp declines.

The future is smaller, local and more digital

Writing on EventMB, international speaker and editor Julius Solaris examined a German study to sketch out a portrait of what the "new normal" might look like after we emerge from the crisis. In short, he says the future is smaller and more local, with a focus on digital technologies and social media strategies.

The Geneva-based MCI-Group echoed this sentiment in their article about the post-pandemic future. They point to the need for teams to develop new digital skills, or to recruit talent or suppliers with the expertise that will be needed to thrive in the new reality. Social media community managers with analytics skills, data professionals, UX designers and digital education experts will all be in high demand.

Face-to-face meetings will still matter

The Northstar Meetings Group spoke with CEOs and meeting industry leaders compiled a list of 12 key takeaways from these discussions. They range from the importance of face-to-face meetings to build relationships and retain knowledge, to a shift toward simplicity, leaner budgets and stringent safety standards.

Meeting design

According to Prevue Meeting + Incentives, meeting design must be rethought to take into account everything from new distancing norms to food & beverage hygiene. Measures to limit traffic on trade show floors may be added, and cleanliness clauses that include cleaning and disinfecting of meeting rooms between sessions may become the new standard in contracts. Hotels will be at the forefront of these changes, says Cvent, with options that may range from serving food in individual units (like bagged lunches) to using available outdoor spaces for gatherings.

Contingency planning

No one could have predicted a scenario in which all meetings and events worldwide – even the summer Olympics! – would suddenly be postponed or cancelled. As planners scrambled to cut their losses, it became clear that certain clauses of standard contracts would have to be rethought in the future. PMLiVE, the website of Pharmaceutical Market Europe (PME) magazine, predicts that contracts will be tightened, clauses reworded and insurance policies will need to offer not only communicable disease coverage (although COVID-19 coverage is surely off the table) but broader coverage to foresee the next unforeseeable disaster.

So, what does the future hold?

The consensus seems to be that industry experts expect to see a gradual return to smaller, more local meetings in September, barring any “second wave” scenarios. Most expect that a return to normal – or rather, the “new normal” – will probably take about 12 to 18 months. New hygiene measures, updated contracts and hybrid events will become the norm. And there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on: virtual conferences are useful, but they will never completely replace the value of face-to-face meetings. No matter how advanced technology becomes, human beings thrive on human connections.


Read this next: Montréal virtual meeting hubs

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