State of In-Person Events: Who’s Booking What, Where & When?

Smart Meetings got a sneak peek at the Event Leadership Institute’s (ELI) opening general session of their upcoming Business, Design & Strategy Summit on June 3, The State of the Industry: Where We Are With In-Person Events.

The session features Ken Holsinger, senior vice president of data solutions at Freeman; Gus Vonderheide, vice president of global sales at Hyatt; Rose Horcher, CMM, CMP, vice president of client services at Choose Chicago; and Jessica Malaty Rivera, epidemiologist and science communications lead at the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. ELI CEO Howard Givner will be moderating the panel and invited Smart Meetings to listen in on the pre-event prep call. Below are some of the key takeaways.

  1. Cautious, Ready & Excited: Freeman’s Event Research Report, which has been gauging attendee and exhibitor sentiment every few months since the pandemic started, shows their Confidence Index rising from .75 in February to .81 in April. Positivity sentiment rose from 30 percent in February to 45 percent in April, and by all accounts those numbers have continued their upward trend in May. When asked what one word describes their current emotional state towards attending in-person events, the top word among attendees was “Cautious” followed by “Excited” and “Ready.” Exhibitors similarly chose “Cautious” and “Ready” in equal measure.
  2. Lead Flow: Everyone is reporting strong increases in new inquiries over the past couple of months. Choose Chicago’s lead volume went up 91 percent from April to May, and is forecasting another 50 percent increase from May to June. As of May 25, their Q2 lead volume has already surpassed Q1 numbers.
  3. Who’s Booking: Hyatt is seeing a huge increase in leads from third-party RFP platforms like Cvent, and site selection companies like HelmsBriscoe. Vonderheide oversees the company’s top 60 enterprise clients, and reports that tech companies like Google & Microsoft are coming back faster than finance and professional service companies like Deloitte and PwC, which are currently more hesitant. For the next 3-6 months, many corporations aren’t holding meetings due to company travel restrictions. As for associations, their meetings that would have taken place in the next three months have already gone virtual.
  4. International Attendance Has a Long Way to Go: Groups with large international participation have indicated that their attendance could be strong domestically, however the international contingent may be slow to return due to travel restrictions and lack of vaccines or slow vaccine rollout in their countries.
  5. What They’re Booking: Small meetings and local events are coming back first, followed by regional and then national events. People are “cautiously optimistic” about the small meetings market for Q4 of this year.
  6. When They’re Taking Place: By all accounts 2022 is shaping up to be a very robust year. It’s unlikely to meet 2019 numbers, partly because international travel is taking longer to return, and also because 2019 was a record year for many event industry businesses.
  7. Where They’re Booking: Hyatt’s top destinations are Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Chicago.
  8. What the Pick-Up Is: Convention customers are saying that both exhibit sales and domestic attendee registration is pacing better than anticipated. Where they were initially expecting most shows to experience somewhere between 40-50 percent reduction in both areas, they’re actually finding it averaging closer to 20-30 percent off pace prior to Covid and in some circumstances completely on pace.
  9. Vaccines and Covid: Epidemiologist Jessica Malaty Rivera says “Herd immunity is a dimmer, not an on/off switch,” and that Covid will likely become an endemic virus, meaning that it will have a constant presence which we’ll have to deal with on an ongoing basis (like the flu) rather than a disease we will eradicate (like polio). While the anti-vax group is a relatively small, but loud, minority, the vaccine-hesitant group is larger; getting more of them on board will have a bigger impact. The vaccine-hesitant percentages have been dropping steadily as more information is out and an increasing number of their friends, family and co-workers are getting vaccinated. Freeman’s data also shows that the meeting and event industry is far more likely to get vaccinated than the general population.
  10. Divergent Planner and Supplier Expectations: Suppliers are finding that planners are expecting them to be so thrilled for any business that they’ll provide significant upgrades, service enhancements and concessions. However, most suppliers are still operating at significantly reduced staff levels, in many cases 70-80 percent below their pre-Covid head count, while working more hours.
  11. Loss of Institutional Memory: So many of the people that organizations have furloughed or let go have found other jobs or left the industry altogether, leaving a gaping hole in their institutional memory of clients’ unique needs and idiosyncrasies, a hole that will take some time to refill.

For more details, and to view this session live, along with the other 16 dynamic sessions, register here for the Business, Design & Strategy Summit.

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