Even if planners don’t believe the new year will magically fill meetings calendars like it was early 2019, 75 percent of meeting professionals are rebooking meetings, energized by news of a vaccine and safety protocols adopted by venues and hotels.
That’s among the insights of a survey by Knowland, in collaboration with ConferenceDirect, in which 450 meeting planners were asked how they’re feeling about the meetings industry at the end of 2020.
The study underscored that demand is there, but the majority (58 percent) of planners are not comfortable with travel yet. That discomfort may remain even after COVID restrictions have largely lapsed: When asked if they expect to book more or less in-person meetings compared to pre-COVID levels 12 months from now, 49.5 percent reported they expect to continue booking less. As has been repeatedly predicted, hybrid is here to stay.
So how to meet when people are hesitant to travel? Fifty-three percent of planners believe the key is to keep it local.
And what do planners say will bring back in-person meetings? Sixty-five percent are pinning their hopes on the COVID vaccines, and 60 percent believe flexible, low-risk hotel contracts are the second-most important factor. More than three-quarters (79 percent) believe the most impactful thing venues can do to encourage in-person meetings is to follow local safety guidelines.
For one-quarter of planners, true confidence in the return of face-to-face meetings doesn’t begin until the second half of 2021; most planners (72 percent) are confident in-person meetings will widely resume in 2022.
When live meetings are up and running again, 68 percent of meeting professionals believe their events will have 20-40 percent fewer attendees than before. Almost half (46 percent) of planners believe attendance will not return to early 2019 levels until 2023.