Medical congresses have been back to in-person for over a year, with attendance rapidly building just in the past six months. ESMO, the largest oncology congress in Europe, had an estimated 29k attendees in September (roughly 90% of pre-pandemic attendance). Now that congresses are “back to business”, we are noticing some key trends as we wrap up 2022 and prepare for 2023.
Current trends in Congresses
Attendance has returned to roughly pre-pandemic levels.
In many cases, this is faster than our clients anticipated. Pharma companies contracted room blocks for Q4 congresses months ago, when attendance was being regularly impacted by COVID-19 peaks and estimated attendance was low. Now we are seeing an almost universal need to increase room blocks for congresses through the end of 2023. If you expect to need additional rooms at any congresses in the future, act quickly!
In Q4 of 2022, solely in-person congresses have become the predominant format for the first time since Q1 of 2020.
The big question in the medical congress space has been- will hybrid stick around? Medical societies have to weigh the time and financial investment to produce a simultaneous virtual attendance option against the benefit of increasing and diversifying their audience. Virtual attendance is being offered less or the virtual option is published late in the planning process. When virtual is offered, virtual registration is the same as or close to the cost of in-person registration.
Societies are facing pressures due to lower staff and/or increased volume.
Responses to inquiries and changes often take longer than pre-pandemic. In response to these pressures, some societies are closing registration earlier than in the past, others are not accepting name changes close to the event date.
Industry-wide hospitality staffing shortages (in hotels, ground transportation providers, and restaurants) are impacting congresses.
This might be similar to experiences you may have had with standalone meetings. Congresses create an escalated “pressure test” situation due to the influx of thousands of delegates into a single destination. We expect these challenges to continue for several months as staffing slowly stabilizes.
Inflation is a challenge across meetings and congresses.
Congresses drive a lot of cross-border travel often into higher cost cities with elevated pricing due to demand. Now, inflation makes it even harder to meet meal and hotel compliance spending caps. Our planners have to allow additional time to obtain required exceptions, or in some cases spend caps just cannot be accommodated.
Many congresses in the first half of 2023 are going to take place in destinations that are not common on the medical congress circuit.
That's including Bilbao, Spain, Cairo, Egypt, and Tampa, Florida. Others are scheduled to take place in cities with challenging hotel inventory such as Copenhagen, Denmark and Paris, France. In all instances, secure your room blocks early!
For more trends and what to expect in the meetings and events industry in 2023, download our global trends report by clicking the image below.