The pivot to virtual events mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic changed the events industry almost overnight. However, just because events can now occur in person again doesn’t mean the industry has instantly returned to the way things were before. Instead, the power of virtual experiences has left a permanent mark on physical events.
Supporting that view are new findings from The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, UFI, which has released its latest Global Barometer survey. Including data from 367 companies across 56 countries—with a particular focus on 21 nations known for their events and experiences—the report asked event organisers and planners to select the most critical issues affecting them to create a picture of industry trends over the last seven years.
Let’s take a closer look some of the standout statistics contained within the report, before we dive into the six key takeaways.
An Industry in Flux
In general, the report shows the events industry is looking at the year ahead with positivity and is expecting to make a full recovery post-pandemic—except for the Chinese market, which is still grappling with the effects of COVID-19. Indeed, the “impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on business” is now ranked as the least pressing issue facing event organisers, having previously been top of the list.
This former concern has been replaced by “internal management challenges” as the most pressing challenge for the coming year, with 20% of respondents identifying the issue. The event industry is far from alone in facing an inability to attract staff, which is common to many industries in the current climate.
While that problem might seem intractable, the second most important issue globally is easier to navigate: the “impact of digitalisation”. Following closely behind management challenges, the prominence of digitalisation in the results suggests that event professionals increasingly realise that providing more digital experiences is a growing opportunity.
While digital transformation has been a hot-button issue for at least the last decade, the data suggests COVID-19 may have supercharged its importance to the events industry—from 2015 to 2022, the impact of digitalisation has more than doubled in its prominence according to UFI.
The Human Touch
That’s far from the only thing affected by COVID-19. According to 88% of respondents, the pandemic “confirmed the value of face-to-face events”. Despite the clear vote of confidence for more in-person events, however, 26% believe there will be “fewer international physical exhibitions” in the future.
Partly that’s because virtual events have proved themselves much more accessible to a global audience, but it’s also because they serve to improve another issue increasingly important to event organisers: sustainability. Indeed, concerns about the effect on the climate of events among professionals have doubled, increasing from four percent of answers in 2015 to eight percent in 2022.
Physical Yet Virtual
No one is predicting that one event format will win out over the other. And with only five percent of respondents agreeing that virtual events are replacing physical events, most seem comfortable that the two can at least coexist.
More than that, the data suggests that the future of exhibition formats is merging the two formats by delivering hybrid experiences. A clear majority of marketing professionals, 57%, believe there is a push towards hybrid events that include more digital elements.
Six Key Lessons
As UFI’s barometer suggests, event planners looking ahead to this year and the next may need to tweak their strategies to take advantage of prevailing winds. Here are six important factors event professionals should take away from the findings:
- While the short-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may have passed for most, the industry has permanently evolved—and the old certainties no longer apply
- Brands providing digital experiences to their audiences are ahead of the curve as the rest of the events sector slowly wakes up to new possibilities
- Physical events are still the cornerstone of most experiential marketing schedules, but increasingly there is a belief that they should take some lessons from the successes of virtual events
- There is a growing understanding among professionals that—though virtual events will not replace physical events—hybrid is here to stay
- By incorporating virtual elements, brands stand to boost their audiences and take valuable steps towards supporting their sustainability agendas
- The increasing wave of digitisation sweeping the industry suggests events are on the cusp of a reinvention, but businesses need the right hybrid platform solutions to support the shift
The Future of Hybrid Events
Thanks to technological advancements and the lessons of the pandemic, event managers don’t need to choose between virtual and in-person events anymore. Hybrid events can bring the best of both worlds and mitigate the drawbacks of each individual format. But delivering a hybrid event is easier said than done, and finding the right technology partner is crucial to delivering a worthwhile event experience. With an end-to-end, next-generation event experience platform like gther, brands can more easily create immersive, engaging events across physical and virtual spaces.
Are you interested in hosting a hybrid event but are unsure about striking the right balance between virtual and in-person formats? Read our blog on the CLEAR model to discover five key criteria that the best event experiences need to deliver against.