It's been over 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic halted the meetings and events industry and the world. 2021 proved to be another year full of ups and downs. Most recently, the Delta variant has affected the return of face-to-face and each region (and even country) remains at various stages of recovery. But a recent traveler survey found that while virtual meetings and remote work are here to stay, business travel and face-to-face meetings remain extremely important.
Duty of care and safety are top of mind, but 76% of respondents said business travel helps them perform their work efficiently, and 66% believe the main weakness of virtual meetings and events is the lack of human interaction, highlighting the enthusiasm to meet in person. As the industry continues to move forward with cautious optimism, we asked our leaders around the world to weigh in on the state of business and future outlook.
Current State of Meetings and Events by Region
After the successful execution of live events where the right measures were in place, there is an increased preference for clients to pursue face-to-face formats. The majority (65%+) of our face-to-face meetings remain on schedule; however, they are smaller in size. Many larger meetings have moved into 2022 with hotel availability becoming more limited next year. We have seen strong indications that incentive programs will return with a force as companies are becoming more eager to connect in person to recognize and reward attendees. Many have expressed increased interest in exploring unique destinations within domestic travel.
This uptick in face-to-face meetings and events has also prompted customers’ interest in revisiting and refreshing crisis management protocols and procedures. Best practices around duty of care and risk mitigation have been top of mind over the last 20 months and will only continue to become more critical to safe and successful event planning.
Latin America: Ana Paula Hernandez
Although vaccination rates are steadily on the rise (currently at 30-40% regionally) and continuing to increase across all markets, the onset of the Delta variant has delayed the rapid return of face-to-face events in Latin America. Markets in Brazil and Mexico are seeing an increased demand for proposals; however, digital components still comprise large parts of those requests. As the interest in live meetings continues to grow, we anticipate a continued decline in interest of hybrid event formats due to their costliness and complexity.
As a result of the increased interest in live events, duty of care and risk management have become top of mind in the planning process, and liability will remain a big concern for clients until most of the population has been vaccinated. The risks associated with planning live events has also prompted a desire for more flexibility as well as the management of emotions and expectations when planning events. Clients want to feel comfortable booking with enough room to reschedule or adjust without the same stress experienced in 2020.
We anticipate that virtual events will remain prevalent through the end of this year and into the first two quarters of 2022. But with growing client interest in face-to-face meetings coupled with the consistent rise in regional vaccination rates, we are remaining optimistic about the return of live events in the first half of 2022.
Europe, Middle East, Africa: Mikael Ek
In the European region (excluding UK), the vaccination program is overall positive with very strong development in certain markets. Travelling is now possible due to vaccination QR codes, making business travel much easier in-region as no further testing is required. However, the airline network is still not up to speed with only a few direct flights available and many last-minute cancellations, causing additional concern and uncertainty when planning meetings and events that require air. Overall, Europe is following in the footsteps of UK and the U.S. but with a delay. Given that the UK and U.S. will have limited ability to travel into the EU, meetings and events will likely focus on local and/or regional locations that can be more easily planned and executed. There is also an increased demand for SMMPs with focus on sustainability and risk mitigation, as well as understanding how meetings and events policies will need to change going forward. Additionally, the supplier network is changing as more partnerships are formed.
In some parts of the Middle East, we’ve seen the level of vaccination high enough to make people feel comfortable to meet and plan events again. Even travelling between markets has become easier, and local operating clients are more active compared to international operating clients. Big shows and trade fairs like Expo 2020 Dubai and World Defense Show are heavily supported by the government, which is reducing restrictions. These shows will have people travelling into the region and hopefully help drive a different attitude toward meeting in person. And in Africa, vaccination levels are a significant concern. Where possible within country borders, people have been meeting and organizing small events, but the situation maintains unstable and risky.
U.K.: Helen McCabe
The impact of COVID-19 continues within the UK; however, there are clear signs of a steady recovery. We saw increased demand from September 2021 for smaller, domestic meetings and events as well as a further upturn of larger face-to-face events taking place from Q1 2022. We have seen significant evidence of business diversification during the pandemic and continue to overcome new barriers arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Sustainability, a deeper requirement for a wider delegate management solution, plus the continuation of both virtual and hybrid events impacts the future shape of our industry. We continue to invest in both proprietary and best-in-class external technology to meet the ever-evolving needs of both our customers and the meetings and events landscape. We have welcomed onboard a record number of new clients this year and are working with our existing customers to successfully expand their requirements to other BCD regions and/or additional services, which has resulted in improving client satisfaction results by 10% across the UK.
Learn more about What's Trending for 2022 in our Global Trends Report