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Stats: 82% of Planners Believe a Vaccine Is Top Factor for Return of In-Person Events

Global DMC Partners (GDP) has shared the results of its most recent Meetings & Events Pulse Survey, focusing on the widespread impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic across the MICE industry. While the survey had respondents from across the globe, the majority were based in the United States (41 percent), followed by the United Kingdom (26 percent) and Mexico (16 percent). Participants included third-party/independent planners (39 percent), pharmaceuticals planners (13 percent) and planners in associations, technology, finance, insurance and law.

Some of the findings were shared in the Welcome & Industry Expert Panel at Global DMC’s Virtual Connection event, which took place this week. Global DMC Partners president and CEO, Catherine Chaulet, shared key insights and data from GDP’s Q3 survey, what planners can expect heading into 2021 and how the industry can best be prepared for the year ahead.

Key highlights of the findings included:

  • Over 90 percent reported that some or all of their 2020 events have been postponed to 2021
  • Nearly three-quarters of planners are moving their face-to-face events to virtual or hybrid in 2021
  • While most respondents predict that their face-to-face events will resume in the first half of 2021, many are planning to include a virtual option with their live event, indicating that 2021 will be a hybrid year
  • Eight in 10 (82 percent) believe a vaccine is the most important factor in bringing back face-to-face events

For the majority of respondents, budgets for meetings, conferences and events are either decreasing or remaining the same for 2021. Thirty-eight percent of planners are reporting a decrease in their budgets from 2020-2021, and 32 percent are reporting no change. 

When it comes to incentives budgets, 36 percent report no change, while 32 percent say they will have decreasing budgets for 2021.

What Part of the COVID-19 Crisis Is the Biggest Concern? 

The majority of survey participants indicated that general fear and uncertainty are the biggest current concern (32 percent), followed closely by travel and government restrictions (25 percent). Job security and health and well-being of planners and their family/friends also rank high on the list.

Other than COVID-19, the second biggest industry concern at the moment appears to be financial and budget constraints, as noted by almost half of the respondents (45 percent). Safety and security concerns is a close second, at 39 percent. 

“While the majority of the industry feels that a COVID-19 vaccine is the key to being able to resume hosting in-person events and meetings, there are a lot of health protocols that can be put into place to ensure a safe, successful event in the meantime,” said Chaulet in a press announcement. “Many planners we heard from will be incorporating hand sanitizer stations, space and attendee number restrictions, served and boxed meals instead of buffets, and temperature checks at registration. These preventative measures will help as the industry gets back on its feet.”

When Will People Travel Freely and Have Face-to-Face Meetings?

Regardless of geographic location, most companies are not currently allowing employees to freely travel for business. Forty-seven percent of U.S. companies and 40 percent of non-U.S. companies are not allowing travel. Some (16-18 percent) are allowing C-level executives and other select personnel to travel. On a positive note, 55 percent of respondents believe that their companies will allow employee travel in Q1 or Q2 of 2021.

The majority of survey participants (63 percent) said they predict that their companies and/or clients will host live, in-person events, meetings and incentives in the first half of 2021, providing of course that markets are open, flights are available and health protocols are in place. Fifty-seven percent of respondents do think events will be downsized in the future, with the largest events topping out at 250 attendees. A majority (63 percent) also believe that average event attendee numbers will decrease in 2021, citing issues such as adhering to physical distancing requirements and the level of comfort with traveling and attending events in general.

Going Virtual in 2020 and Beyond?

Compared to responses from the Q2 survey, the tendency towards virtual and hybrid events in 2020 has significantly increased from 69 percent to 86 percent. Looking ahead to 2021, the majority of planners (72 percent) are moving their events to a virtual or hybrid format. 

While incentive trips remain largely irreplaceable and many are still just postponed, in Q3 more respondents reported offering additional alternatives to their incentive trip, such as a virtual incentive event or gifts. Sixty-four percent of participants report that 2021 incentive trips are still planned to take place.

Post-COVID-19 Challenges

When asked what will be the number one challenge planners expect to face with meetings, events and incentives once travel begins more widely, the top three responses were implementing new health & sanitation protocols, determining contract terms and lower budgets. This is a change from Q2 responses when fear was predicted as the top challenge. Interestingly, 25 percent of U.S.-based respondents were most concerned with the challenge of implementing new health & sanitation protocols, while non-U.S. respondents were most concerned with the challenge of lower meeting/event budgets (22 percent).

“Once travel resumes more broadly, I am confident that we can tackle any new challenges as an industry to resume hosting and attending in-person meetings and incentive programs,” said Chaulet. “Face-to-face events will look a little different, but I look forward to the innovative solutions and creative approaches that planners around the world will no doubt implement as we fully rebound.”

The Meetings & Events Pulse Survey was conducted September 14-30, 2020, the survey polled 447 respondents from the meetings and events industry; of these, 90 percent were planners versus vendors or suppliers.

Source: Global DMC Partners

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