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How the Pandemic Changed Live Events

What a year it has been. The shift to remote work. The enhanced cleaning and sanitation protocols. Masks, vaccines, and what feels like the start of a rebuild for the live events sector.

The live events industry has historically been closely tied to travel.  Almost every time the US travel sector has seen a crisis, the live events industry has felt it, and 2020 was no different. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) reported this month that the US Travel & Tourism sector lost $766 billion in 2020, a 41% decrease in the sector's GDP contribution. The country's domestic travel decreased by 37%, while international travel declined 77% last year.  With live events historically so dependent upon travel, this decline in the travel industry naturally reverberated into the live events sector in 2020.

Looking forward, a recent poll by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world's largest business travel association, reported that GBTA members and stakeholders largely expect non-essential domestic business travel to resume in the second half of 2021, with international travel expected to take longer, resuming in 2022.  While this poll may only indicate anticipation or sentiment from those closest to the travel industry, there's hope in these insights. Thus, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.

The live events industry has spent the last twelve months shifting to virtual experiences, which seems to have generated pent-up demand for face-to-face meetings. Adding to that, with the increase in vaccinations and cities reopening, we finally see a brighter outlook for domestic travel and live events. The new outlook is inspiring – and ON Services shares in the optimism.


Here are the trends ON Services sees for the coming months.

  • There seems to be pent-up demand for local and regional travel.
    A recent study of American travelers suggested that 87% of those polled now have travel plans in the next six months, the highest level since early March 2020.  While some are still reticent to get on a plane, local and regional locations (2-3 hours driving distance) provide options for your travel-ready and more cautious stakeholders alike.
  • Marketing will be tasked with proving ROI for its spend more than ever.
    Companies, associations, and non-profits need consistent messaging and engagement to drive business. As a result, marketing departments will continue to lean into digital campaigns and optimize their online presence. Still, as we emerge from a year of hardship, marketers will be asked to justify the investment in face-to-face meetings and experiential marketing.  When faced with this debate, it's essential to understand that historically, the commerce conducted, the relationships created, and the educational experience delivered have supported the case for face-to-face meetings.  Know the statistics and understand the benefits your organization has historically seen from past face-to-face events.
  • The planning window is constricting and supported with fewer resources.
    While planning windows have steadily been shrinking over the years, the impact of the pandemic has seemed to accelerate this constriction.  Decisions by meeting planners to change dates, change venues, and deciding whether to host a face-to-face event or move to virtual are all being made. Unfortunately, with smaller planning teams and competing priorities, we see these decisions often slow down the process.  The domino effect is much shorter planning windows for your vendors, which introduce more risk to your event.  To better ensure success, communicate early and often with your vendors, even (and especially) if you're still undecided.  As a good partner, your vendor should make recommendations and provide input that may help your decision-making process while also enabling the vendor to continue to be in lockstep with your expectations.
  • State and venue mandates will continue to evolve.
    As we've seen, many states and venues have different approaches to mask-wearing, temperature checks, and COVID-19 testing.  With such disparate and evolving policies, it is critical to continue to monitor the local mandates for your destination of choice as your event draws near.  Just as crucial is ensuring your stakeholders that you clearly communicate the health and safety protocols expected for your event and consider any questions or concerns they may have; likewise, discuss with your vendors their on-site health and safety protocols.  These should be at least as stringent as the local guidelines, but you may find your vendor, with multiple live events under their belt, can help shape your procedures as you head into your event as well.


Parting Thoughts

The pandemic shutdowns have greatly impacted the live events industry, but planners, marketers, and vendors alike have proven resilient.

So, what are your plans for the balance of the year? Do you have the right partners to help you succeed?  If you're still uncertain or would like to discuss further with someone from our team, connect with us here.