Meeting Mentor Magazine

July 2024

New ConferenceDirect Research: Face-to-Face Events on the Upswing

Confidence is high that in-person meetings and events are coming back in a big way, according to a new survey by ConferenceDirect and Knowland, a leading data-as-a-service provider of data on meetings and events for the hospitality industry. With meeting volume in the U.S. experiencing strong double-digit growth over several consecutive months, meeting and event managers expect the industry to reach pre-pandemic booking levels in the near future.

Of course, the omicron variant could throw a monkey wrench into the projections, although a separate Pulse survey found no material difference in sourcing and booking plans before and after omicron appeared. But even if we do get an omnicron-fueled resurgence of COVID-19, industry professionals now have the skills, resources, and knowledge of how to safely produce an in-person event that will help to keep growth stabilized.

In fact, almost half (48%) of event professionals surveyed during the month of October said they expect their 2022 events to equal the number they held in 2019, before COVID-19 hit — and almost 95% said their pre-pandemic meetings program slate was predominantly in-person. Another 13% said they were booking even more in-person events than they did pre-pandemic, while just a quarter said they were still holding back on their return to 2019 levels of in-person events. And even more aren’t waiting until the new year — 65% said they had events either planned or booked for the remainder of Q4 2021.

Meeting and event planners also expressed confidence that their 2022 in-person events won’t suffer the fate of all those spring 2020 meetings that had to be canceled when COVID first struck. Almost 61% said it was “not at all likely” they would have to cancel planned meetings or events, and 51% said it was unlikely they would have to use the postponement option. Forty-four percent of planners also said their in-person meetings next year would likely not be any shorter in duration, while 20% said they were unlikely to add a virtual component to their in-person event next year.

Meetings, 2022-Style

So what will the meeting mix look like in 2022? Almost 80% said they were planning in-person events next year, while 11% said they were going hybrid, and just 9% said they were going with fully virtual events.

As one respondent said, “The past 18 months have shown that while there is some consumption via remote conferences, it does not create the same level of networking and does not work at all for exhibitors as they already have many virtual options.”

Those who are staying with a virtual or hybrid option for the near future agreed that online communities can provide value, especially when it comes to education and information (83%) and tips and trends (58%). Being able to provide a community forum also ranked as a very important resource for 54% of respondents, while vendor ratings and offering a vendor marketplace were key resources for just 31% and 27%, respectively.

Hybrid Considerations

The hybrid option, though not one most want to use in 2022, has been a popular one through the ups and downs of the pandemic to date. The downside is that most attendees are, as of now anyway, still choosing to attend hybrid events digitally rather than in person. For their current hybrid events, just 15% of respondents said they had 76% to 100% of their attendees registering to attend in person, while almost a third said less than 10% of attendees registering for current hybrid events are choosing the in-person option.

However, despite the potential for more COVID-related restrictions in the coming year and a distinct preference to meet face to face, most said they plan to move ahead with their meetings even if they can’t meet 100% in person. Respondents said just 13% of their event clients were holding out until the time they can hold a fully in-person meeting, while 38% said their clients aren’t willing to wait until they can 100% meet in-person.

Fully half said they outsourced their hybrid and virtual technology needs to an external vendor, while just over a quarter said they handled the tech requirements in house and 9% left it up to the venue to provide and manage the technology. Interestingly, having in-house virtual technology and production was a must for 55% of respondents. That may be why those who don’t currently outsource their digital event needs or have a handle on it in-house said they need help in learning more about what technology they will need (5%), or that they need help with production and project management (5%) or in assessing their technology requirements (6%).

Venue Challenges

With just 32% saying they’re very or extremely satisfied with the response to their inquiries that they’re getting from hotels and other event venues, there appear to still be some kinks to work out on the venue side. Given the staffing crunch many venues have been experiencing of late, this is not too surprising, something that may be reflected in the 47% who said they were moderately satisfied with the response they’re getting to their requests for proposal these days. In fact, hotel and venue staffing challenges were a top concern for 30% of respondents, second only to budget availability as a constraint to the return of in-person events.

As one respondent said, “Staffing levels across all facets of the industry are a concern.”

The biggest thing hotels and other venues can do to increase those satisfaction levels? Not surprisingly, that would be to respond to requests in a timely manner, something 52% said would make a big difference for them. The other big factor that could increase planner satisfaction would be for venues to offer terms that flex with pandemic changes, which 43% said would be a huge help. Other factors were by far less influential to their satisfaction levels, with just 2.5% saying it’d be nice if they offered hybrid technology solutions and support, and less than 2% each said they’d like to the ability to book meeting space online or have online information on COVID amenities available online.

As far as the changes they expect to see meeting and event venues make in the coming year, 65% predicted it would be in-house virtual technology and production. As one respondent commented, “It’s crucial that hotels provide the technology by default (not as an add-on cost) and restructure contracts so that they are not dependent on 100% in-person participation.”

Another 54% said the coming year would also see venues hiking their meeting space fees, while 28% said they expected to see more amenity-based pricing in 2022, and almost a third (32%) said they thought increased event services support would be something event venues would be extremely or very likely to implement in the next 12 months.

While the survey results do indicate optimism for the return for face-to-face meetings and events in 2022, the road will likely continue to be bumpy for the foreseeable future as planners and their clients work out how best to meet attendee and sponsor needs in an ever-changing environment. Hotels and other venues also are expected to continue to struggle with budget and staffing uncertainty and short booking windows.

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About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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