During late 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns and stay-at-home mandates severely impacted the meeting and events industry. Companies and countries imposed strict travel restrictions, while mask and social distancing mandates put a damper on live occasions.
What a difference a year makes.
IIn 2021, the meeting and event industry adapted to pandemic-created challenges, leading to innovative events. As of now, in-person events, complete with social-distancing measures, vaccination requirements, and mask mandates, are starting to come back. But what will happen in 2022? The likelihood is strong that even as live events ramp up, digital and hybrid happenings will continue to be part of the event-planning landscape.
Returning, In Person
One hard-to-ignore fact is that people are anxious to get back together, especially when it comes to live meetings and events.
The Global Recovery Insights 2021 report backs this assertion with numbers. According to exhibitors surveyed, half anticipated that their budgets would return to normal by the end of 2022. Additionally, 62% of exhibitors surveyed said they plan to attend shows in person at the same or increased frequency as before.
The report also surveyed attendees; 72% of participants indicated they would be attending in-person events and shows in 2022.
Another interesting fact about this report is that digital events haven’t replaced live events. Respondents noted that face-to-face happenings are preferable when it comes to networking, education, and overall experience. However, this doesn’t mean that digital events are going away.
Hybrid, the Continued Tool
One thing to count on in 2022 is that hybrid events will continue. However, the issue to keep in mind is that “hybrid” can mean various things.
According to Meeting Planners International, a hybrid event combines “technology with traditional event practices to create new types of attendee experiences and content delivery tools.” As such, these events can focus on at least one group of face-to-face attendees, which connects virtually with participants in other locations.
Regardless of the form a hybrid event takes, experts, believe they will be a mainstay of 2022 events for the following reasons.
Young Adults and Millennial Preference
According to Charles Vincent with Spur Impact, younger adults have been partial to in-real-life (IRL) virtual meetings and events. He noted that young adults, especially, are becoming more used to multitasking and working on multiple screens.
Broader Audience Reach
A report from Qualtrics forecasts that while digital (formerly virtual) events are still preferred, a combination of online and in-person events will be essential to appeal to larger audiences. Many attendees and exhibitors are still leery of travel, making a hybrid happening a good strategy.
Continued Remote Work Preference
Not all corporate offices are open. In fact, companies are more accepting of remote work, especially among employees with kids. This has translated to event attendance. During 2020, a high percentage of working parents attended digital events, and this trend continued in 2021 and is likely to continue in the coming year.
More Sophisticated Content
During 2020 and 2021, planners developed content that was ideal for hybrid events. In 2022, session recordings and PowerPoints will be more available for those attendees unable to travel to an in-person event or who could not attend a digital event when it was live.
Potential Emotional Obstacles
There is indeed a pent-up demand when it comes to in-person events. However, people are still nervous when it comes to issues such as COVID-19 transmission rates. As such, it will be easier to offer a hybrid format, especially for those who are nervous about attending events in person.
The Hyperlocal Impact
Another trend continuing into 2022 will be hyperlocality. Rather than hosting a single meeting or event at a centralized location, planners and schedulers will take advantage of regional spaces (such as limited-service hotels or meeting spaces) and host simultaneous events there.
Local events with a robust digital component offer several benefits, not the least of which is a lower risk of viral transmission. Furthermore, this setup will help cut back on travel expenses for attendees. This can be an important consideration, especially as businesses are dealing with last year’s pandemic-created recession.
Worker and Staffing Challenges
Finally, staffing shortages will be an issue as people return to events and meetings (whether in-person, digital, or hybrid). One reason for this is because event planning companies had to cut staff in 2020 and 2021 and are trying to ramp up their teams. As such, labor shortages could mean that “auxiliary” staff, such as artists, technicians, audiovisual specialists, and florists, might be more challenging to find and hire.
Preparing For 2022
When thinking about your meetings and events in 2022, it’s essential to realize that this will be vastly different from 2019, before the pandemic. As such, consider the following suggestions for a successful event next year.
Begin planning now. If you have not already started to book your 2022 event, it’s crucial you do so now. As mentioned above, staffing shortages will be an issue next year. Furthermore, as more companies and organizations plan their events, you could run into competition for experts, small meeting spaces, or even bandwidth.
Make sure your plan covers live and digital components. When setting up packages, people, and assistance, ensure that the correct components are fitted with the proper method deliveries. For example, not all speakers will be comfortable on a virtual platform.
Be flexible and creative. During 2020 and 2021, event planners develop unique and innovative ways to engage hybrid and digital attendees. It’s vital to continue innovation in 2022. Whether they are tuning in virtually or coming to see your event live, your attendees want to be engaged. Speaking of which . . .
Know your audience’s likes, dislikes, and tolerances. In other words, delve deeply into data. Audience feedback in 2022 will be more critical than ever, and understanding what works with your attendees and exhibitors means a better event experience. For example, planning your hybrid event might be a good idea to focus on shorter micro-events spread out over a couple of days versus one large, hours-long main event.
2020 involved shutdowns and the need for digital platforms, while 2021 experienced meetings and events comeback. We anticipate that 2022 will see an even more significant resurgence. Additionally, the positive advantages realized from hybrid and hyper-local happenings will carry over into next year. The best way to take advantage of this is to know what your attendees and exhibitors want. With this knowledge, your next-year event can be the one that is remembered and appreciated.