We may be a way off pre-COVID levels of normalcy, but as we learn to live alongside the virus – largely thanks to progress on the vaccination front – the world is starting to open up at various rates, depending on regional and national pandemic management strategies and resilience.
Our experience at TTA is that clients are putting in-person business events firmly back on the radar, and some are considering a hybrid model that combines real-world and virtual delivery. Naturally, attendees concerned about health and safety want stringent assurances that every possible measure has been taken to safeguard their welfare. As event professionals, we’re helping our clients navigate unique, ongoing challenges to ensure we continue to deliver outstanding projects that further their business interests.
Corporate travel is making a comeback
While there’s light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, there are mixed feelings when it comes to international travel and, on a corporate level, there’s no clear consensus. A minority of businesses deemed travel essential to doing business and resumed trips as soon as lockdown eased, while at the other end of the spectrum, many corporates have permanently slashed their travel budgets, replacing face-to-face meetings with digital alternatives. Occupying the middle ground are companies taking a wait-and-see approach to deciding when to lift travel restrictions, and SMEs who are not subject to the heightened approval process that large corporates have to follow.
Many among our clients have already set their sights on 2022 and are planning accordingly for Congresses and HCP events, incentives and sales meetings. However, with the huge savings made in 2020 through travel embargos and a 7% drop in total global carbon emissions during lockdown, event travel is likely to be scrutinised in terms of objectives, business justification and corporate sustainability goals. A GBTA member survey in September 2021 reported that two in five companies had re-evaluated the ROI of business travel and over half of respondents (52%) were planning to increase their use of hybrid meetings.
The hybrid event model can be a best-of-both-worlds solution for businesses looking to extend the reach of their events while minimising travel. However, it’s imperative that the participant experience is outstanding for everyone – remote audiences should never feel like an afterthought or second-class citizens. In many instances, that will demand a complete rethink of the project, from concept through content and communications to logistics including destination and venue selection.
Venues under pressure as event enquiries surge
Accompanying the desire to restart global in-person event planning is an immediate pressure on the availability of venues, as properties scramble to accommodate both projects postponed from 2019 and new enquiries.
As our clients venture back into the world of in-person events, we are seeing demand for larger gatherings in 2022 but across a limited number of destinations, with Europe very popular due to factors including virus containment, standards of healthcare, vaccination coverage and the easing of border curbs. Clients are also looking to achieve a balance between business sessions and social or team-building opportunities to enable customers and colleagues to build relationships. All this is generating fierce competition for tech-enabled venues with larger, more flexible indoor and outdoor spaces that can accommodate numbers in a safe, socially-distanced way. For large meetings, it’s a job to find venues that can support a cabaret or classroom set-up and maintain social distancing. Even large congress centres are struggling with these demands, so it’s harder still for hotels.
Global DMC Partners’ Q2 poll found that some venues were still not fully staffed and the volume of RFP requests could be overwhelming – particularly as some businesses still harbour pre-pandemic expectations in terms of proposal turnaround and availability. At TTA, we’re helping our clients to carefully plan and manage expectations and, of course, looking beyond the obvious for venue solutions that meet their brief.
Budgets need to go further than ever
We’ve also observed an increase in costs across the event lifecycle for rescheduled projects that were budgeted back in 2019. It’s not just the cost of travel that has risen, but also that of venues and congress centres due to the need for larger spaces and COVID-related mandatory bolt-ons such as cleaning, utilities, in-house catering and security. There can also be budget implications for adding the technology elements needed for hybrid events, such as live-streaming to remote digital audiences or multi-hybrid hubs distributed across various locations. We are working diligently and transparently with our clients to help them contain these costs and to look beyond the obvious for creative solutions that deliver greater impact without breaking the budget.
In part two of our blog, we’ll share TTA’s Top Tips, gathered from our team, for navigating the challenges of post-pandemic event delivery as our dynamic industry makes the transition from Zoom back into the room.