events

Beyond 2020: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Events Industry

Simon Birinder

January 28, 2021

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7 min read

The coronavirus outbreak brought events across the globe to an abrupt halt. Whilst the pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the $1.1tn industry, it has also created extraordinary opportunity. 

Amidst the ongoing uncertainty, we look at how Covid-19 has impacted the event world and take a glimpse into what the future may hold.

When the pandemic hit

Even before the world went into lockdown, the industry’s 26 million professionals knew they were in trouble. With so many in-person events reliant on international participation, fear of travel and of convening in numbers effectively decimated audience levels. And the fallout was quick with events across all continents swiftly cancelled.

“Most planned events had to be postponed or canceled, and it puts many event creators in a tough financial situation.” - Joel Crouch, VP, Eventbrite (source: Management Today)

One of the early casualties was the Mobile World Congress - the biggest mobile communications trade show in the world. Attracting more than 100,000 attendees from nearly 200 countries to Barcelona’s Fira, the event was forced to close when exhibitors including Amazon, Sony and Facebook pulled out. Weeks later came the crushing announcement that many had predicted: the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. By then, much of the world was already in lockdown.

Source: twitter.com/Tokyo2020

Reality bites

The mass cancelation and postponement of events was accompanied by an alarming drop in future bookings and huge losses in revenue. In a C&IT study of 2,000 international MICE industry professionals, 79% of respondents claimed that the rate of new bookings had decreased ‘a lot’. And the pinch has been felt throughout the entire supply chain, including:

  • Venues
  • Hotels
  • Destination management companies
  • Technical contractors
  • Caterers
  • Transport providers

The short term outlook

According to the University of Westminster’s Covid-19 Business Impact Study, 77% of respondents believe their events businesses are headed into a recession.

Source: Covid-19 Business Impact Study, a Global Events Industry Perspective, University of Westminster

Respondents to the study also reported that:

  • 25.9% have furloughed full-time employees
  • 4.6% have furloughed part-time employees
  • 12.9% have let full-time employees go
  • 7.7% have let part-time employees go

But, amidst the crisis, there has been opportunity

“Disruptive or catastrophic events aren’t new for those of us in the event industry…it’s these circumstances that push us towards innovation.” – Chris Meyer, CEO, GPJ

With reduced demand for in-person meetings, event planners are having to amass new skills and identify alternative ways of connecting people. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate what they do best: Adapt and Innovate.

And it’s happening in real time.

In the blink of an eye, the industry has harnessed the power of virtual platforms. In April 2020 alone, online events increased by 1,100%.


Future-proofing the industry

“This year has brought no end of challenges, but we’ve emerged stronger, with greater capabilities and in a more competitive position.” - Jose Bort, Co-Founder and CEO, EventsCase (source: event industry news)

The imprint of Covid-19 has already left its mark: digital events are here to stay.

To ensure the future, steady investment in remote conferencing technology and gamification tools to engage audiences must continue.

Expect a virtual meetings boom:

“The global virtual events market stands strong at a worth of $94bn and is predicted to climb to a mighty $404bn by 2027.” - VEI

And, when in-person events resume, they will need to offer: 

  • Socially distanced venue configurations
  • Restricted participant numbers
  • Staggered attendance
  • Seated dining + packed meals
  • Robust contingency planning

If anything, this pandemic has accelerated the arrival of the digital future with much of the events industry moving towards greater integration of virtual and live events.

So, is the future hybrid?

Yes, it is. 

Even when people begin to gather again, having the flexibility to attend an event either in person or through a virtual medium will hold significant appeal.

“Attendance at a live event is limited by time and distance. A hybrid event lifts those barriers. It’s available across the globe and with a shorter time commitment.” - Cramer

After the seismic shift thrust upon the events industry by Covid-19, it would be naïve to think that virtual audiences will ever disappear. That said, the chances of them cannibalizing the attendance levels of in-person events seem unlikely.


"A lot of people thought virtual meetings were going to destroy our industry…. the opposite is actually true: Virtual meetings can be a very strategic tool for growing face-to-face programs." - Jennifer Kingen Kush, founder KKS (source: Northstar Meetings Group)

Covid-19 has forced the events industry to adapt. But, when the world emerges from its prolonged hiatus, it can look forward to a hybrid future – one that combines the best elements of both in-person and virtual events.

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