Travel Policies Likely to Curtail Event Industry’s Restart

According to the CDC’s latest advice, large crowds are not recommended for anyone who is not fully vaccinated, leading states like California to caution against mega-events even for fully vaccinated people. Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs across the events sector and event bookings are on the upswing.

This is in accordance with the trend in the wider travel industry. According to the Skift Recovery Index, new reservations for upcoming overnight stays at US hotels surpassed the pre-pandemic level for the first time in April 2021, indicating increasing confidence in reopening and a real appetite for travel.

The business world is eager to meet in person again. There are strong reasons to believe that face-to-face events will continue to be needed, even if it is an antidote to the “Zoom fatigue” that even Zoom CEO Eric Yuan concedes he has. In general, all the legal tips continue to point to the importance of “planning carefully and reviewing all state and local regulations before planning a large corporate event.”

Business Travel as a Barometer

Business Travel
Business Travel

The B2B events industry is closely linked to business travel, so understanding the current mindset of companies is key to assessing the short-term viability of the events industry. The recently published ‘Back To Blue Skies Report’, produced by American Express Global Business Travel and American Express, shows that business travellers are looking to return to pre-pandemic levels over the next two years. The same report also states that 78% of decision-makers expect a change in corporate travel policy compared to the pre-pandemic period.
GBTA’s May 2021 member survey shows that 62% of companies cancelled or suspended most or all domestic business travel and 42% of them plan to resume it in the next 1-3 months. For international travel, the numbers are even more dramatic: 92% of companies have cancelled or suspended most or all international business travel, and of these, 13% intend to continue in the next 1-3 months. The same polls also show another worrying sign: optimism among business travel providers has fallen from 54% (optimistic/very optimistic) in April to 47% in May. Bill Gates’ prediction in November 2020 that “over 50% of business travel will disappear in a post-coronavirus world” still seems unclear.
The various events that have taken place in Florida and across the US (and special test events in Europe) show that we can hold safe events. Current restrictions on business travel suggest that this may be the biggest obstacle to the event industry’s recovery, rather than proving that events are safe or that people want to attend them. The main reason is likely to be insurance and liability issues, which may not go disappear any time soon.

Evidence From the Field

Speaking to Kai Troll, President of ASSOCIATIONWORLD, he shares that “many associations based in Europe have a travel ban until the year is out, including organizing their own trips, so they cannot attend any public meetings”.
Troll is also conscious that many are also uncomfortable attending live meetings. Even those who are fine may not be able to do so with a limited travel budget previously set for a year without travel. While the travel policies of associations and non-profit organizations may differ from those of corporations, their constraints affect the organization of events in the same way.

The Case for Virtual Events

Virtual Events
Virtual Events

This may not be what people focused in the events industry want to hear, but the persistent travel discounts will only contribute to the preference for virtual events. We have been exploring the benefits from an engagement perspective, and there is growing interest from the academic community in improving scientific meetings of all shapes and sizes.
Some corporate travel agencies have embraced this idea, although they are likely to be in the minority. Even virtual technology vendors themselves differ in their approach and predictions. Some (presumably those interested in hosting in-person meetings) expect meetings to quickly revert to in-person meetings, with hybrid offerings used in the interim. Others are content to continue to develop their own platforms that are entirely focused on the virtual side of events.

Let us know in the comment section whether you think the event industry will have a rebirth soon.