Beaten Down but Eyeing Innovation

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Beaten Down but Eyeing Innovation

By Michael Pinchera | Aug 4, 2020

This is the first Meetings Outlook survey conducted entirely amidst the widespread coronavirus pandemic—the previous survey was out in the field just as the impact of the virus was beginning to become visible to the masses. As the pandemic continues and most in-person meetings and events have been, at the very least, paused for months, the data reveals the most significantly negative results the survey has ever seen for face-to-face events and the industry as a whole.


Although not a surprise, it is shocking to visualize how significantly and quickly hiring as well as projections for overall business, in-person attendance and budgets turned negative. 


One positive data point is the massive growth in expected attendance for virtual events. Over the years, the anticipated measure of growth for in-person attendance versus virtual attendance has been similar, often with a slightly larger prediction of growth for virtual events—but just by a couple of percentage points. The latest data clearly show how the massive attendance decline expected for in-person events (86 percent of respondents anticipate a negative growth) is directly impacting—in a positive way—that of virtual events, for which 87 percent of respondents envision a positive growth.


“In late March/early April, our team had high hopes that a valid solution for dealing with the pandemic was to move our conferences to the fourth quarter of 2020,” says Monica Grinage-Prince, CMP, CMM (MPI Houston Area Chapter), conference manager, industry events for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. “Now, we are in the process of transitioning those same conferences that we hoped to still bring to the market in 2020 to 2021 and we’ll be offering virtual summits for the remainder of the year.”


Joe McKeown (MPI At Large), with demand generation for Thomson Reuters, says his group has shifted all of its major events to a virtual equivalent, while also taking a hard look at ROI, sometimes cancelling their participation, sometimes expanding it.


“Our central events team published a virtual event playbook for our segment events planners to help develop the skills they need and the resources available to move to virtual platforms for their field marketing programs,” he says. “You can’t just take an agenda from an in-person event and slap it into a virtual one.”


The varying level of comfort with numerous common meeting professional activities is similarly startling. A separate June survey by The Meeting Professional asked about 12 similar types of activities, focusing on when respondents expected to be comfortable with them again. Of those, a majority of respondents said they don’t anticipate feeling comfortable with international air travel, cruise travel, attending events with more than 100 people, buffet dining, hiring additional staff and visiting a theme park or casino until 2021 or later.


Summer MO comfort

“The most difficult thing I think is the uncertainty. Science will prevail and our industry will enter the next phase, but not knowing when is a big concern,” McKeown says. “Work from home will be fine for the foreseeable future, but at some point we have to go back to work. But going back too soon is not an option. Who wants to be in charge of an event that spreads this disease?”


Read additional findings from the survey that didn’t make it into the following report.


The Summer 2020 Meetings Outlook report is available now.



Michael Pinchera

Michael Pinchera, MPI's managing editor, is an award-winning writer and editor as well as a speaker, technologist and contributor to business, academic and pop culture publications since 1997.