Although 2022 is shaping up to be a huge year for the recovery of in-person events, there is still a long way to go. Several large-scale events have already been canceled this year, including gaming conference E3, and event attendance is hovering and holding at 65 percent.
Although attendance isn’t where event planners want it to be, several industry reports indicate we have a reason to be optimistic as we look ahead to the rest of the year and into 2023.
According to MPI’s survey, 10 percent of respondents indicate that their business is already back to pre-pandemic levels – with another 26 percent convinced they will get to pre-pandemic attendance by the end of this year. On top of that, another 64 percent of survey respondents anticipate their business returning to 2019 levels by 2023 or even later – so we can expect an even bigger recovery next year as the remaining 64 percent continue to adapt.
With many events and trade shows still hosting events on a different schedule, this only exacerbates the fact that we’re looking at a 64-percent blended average attendance between professionals and exhibit staff.
Although these numbers don’t seem too promising, in the fall of 2021 only 25 percent of exhibit staff had returned, but we saw those numbers up above 50 percent by early spring 2022. A lot of reports suggested corporations would be more cautious with their staff coming back, expecting fewer staff members to be present at 2022 events. However, they seem to be sending back staff in full force.
On the other hand, attendees have not returned nearly as quickly as event staff.
While virtual events have made it possible for the industry to survive throughout the worst of the pandemic closures, it’s now even more obvious that these events cannot replace every aspect of the in-person experience.
The fact of the matter is, that many (if not most) companies use events for networking opportunities — opportunities that you wouldn’t have at a virtual event. When asked which elements of an event most impacted attendance, respondents cited networking opportunities (65 percent) and the ability to have ‘spontaneous conversations’ (63 percent), according to the report by Meeting Professionals International (MPI).
Events Industry Outlook
One of the most promising forecasts made by the MPI survey was the projected live attendance. According to the survey, 85 percent of respondents indicated that they anticipate live attendance – specifically in-person live attendance – will increase more than 10 percent over the next year.
On the other hand, with more in-person events comes the decline of virtual events we’ve become accustomed to throughout the pandemic. In fact, 50 percent predict a decrease in virtual attendance, which is actually not surprising considering most event planners are pushing in-person events at the moment. With that being said, still another 26 percent expect virtual attendance to actually grow – making it clear that both formats will have an important role moving forward in the industry.
But there is a problem with these reports. One of the biggest issues with planners reporting registration numbers is that these companies are seeing a lot of late cancellations. When you compare registration numbers with attendance, it’s obvious that it is the struggle that leads to that blended 64 percent attendance.
According to SkiftMeetings, shifting values are also affecting event attendance. Although some events sounded great in February, these events may not look as appealing as the event draws nearer. Since a lot changed during the pandemic, companies are weighing their travel and time away more than previously.
Because of the disconnect between registration numbers and actual attendees, many planners are concentrating their marketing efforts and other energy on attendees after they have already registered. According to Holsinger from SkiftMeetings, “this is the most important period of time for planners to focus on. Stressing that registration is just the first step and subsequent efforts need to be directed to helping potential attendees connect with others, including vendors, creating schedules, and ensuring they are apprised of any interesting last-minute updates. This is critical to get them across the finish line – to actually show up to the event. (Event planners) shouldn’t just get them across the line at registration, that’s the beginning of a new campaign…”
Another factor contributing to stalled attendance numbers is the increased number of attendees no longer in their former positions. As the Great Resignation took place, many people quit their jobs or switched jobs, and those positions often aren’t immediately filled. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 50 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021.
All of these factors lead to a huge disconnect when it comes to potential attendee outreach. Not only are event planners using old email addresses that may have changed in the wake of the Great Resignation, but also these targeted attendee lists are sending out emails to addresses and attendees that simply don’t exist anymore.
If we want the industry to recover, it’s important for event planners to ditch the recovery mindset and take on a growth mindset. These companies that are looking to continue recovering from the pandemic and Big Quit need to look for creative and strategic initiatives in order to attract new attendees and drive attendance upward.
Think of all of the people that changed jobs and are now in new positions. What is your company doing to reach them?
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