Since March, measures taken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic have had an extremely severe impact on the professional meetings and events sector. These measures, which have restricted the sector’s activities, have led those working within it to adapt and reinvent the way they operate. However, the lack of clarity in the mid and long terms has plunged the whole industry into uncertainly with regard to the future. In order to provide those in the sector with tools that will enable them to plan ahead and to prepare for a resumption in business activity, Atout France launched a study in June in collaboration with the company EY.
With the support of Atout France’s offices in Germany, the UK and Belgium and thanks to their network of contacts, the study focused on a specifically targeted sample group of event organisers in these three countries: namely, events agencies, conference organisers and large companies.
The results shown below are based on a study carried out in August and September 2020, so the views expressed may have altered since then given the speed with which the situation is changing. The study will be continued during the first and second halves of 2021 in order to update projections and results and to better anticipate the challenges faced by the industry as a whole.
46% of events postponed, adapted or held
Firstly, the study reveals the impressive speed with which those in the sector have been able to react to the global situation. As a result, 46% of events planned in the spring were saved: some were either postponed or adapted, while others went ahead as planned.
Since the start of the crisis, the number of digital events increased significantly but were gradually replaced, whenever this was possible, by hybrid events. The latter enabled networks to be maintained and consolidated in a more normal, albeit distance-based, face-to-face way, expanding meeting options while at the same time reducing health risks and the impact on the environment.
Differences in business resumption forecasts
With regard to the resumption of business activity, however, the study reveals significant differences of opinion: while large companies do not envisage a real upturn before the second half of 2021 (even later for seminars and trade shows), conference organisers and events agencies are looking at a recovery at some stage during the first quarter of 2021, particularly for seminars, product launches and team-building activities.
The lack of confidence and the absence of clarity is particularly evident within companies, almost half of which did not want to express an opinion on a potential recovery timetable.
The companies least impacted by the crisis (pharmaceuticals, technologies and consumer goods) will be the first to want to reorganise their professional events and as a result warrant particular focus from those involved in the professional meetings and events industry.
France still retains its leading position within the sector but needs to provide guarantees
The study also reveals that France remains a leading destination for the three countries surveyed (Germany, Belgium and the UK) and that it can maximise its advantage by focusing on its central location in Western Europe, its wide choice of options, its revered culture and its geographically diverse landscapes.
In the opinion of those industry professionals interviewed, the return of confidence and activities will, in addition to the lifting of regulations, be dependent upon several key factors:
- The adaptation of services and prices to maintain the profitability of activities;
- The implementation of and adherence to safe health and safety protocols;
- The hybridisation of events with significant emphasis on digital activities;
- The optimisation of the environmental impact of events;
- An initial focus on a more locally based clientele, followed by a gradual geographical extension of areas of activity..
It is clear that the recovery will take place in concentric circles, firstly via local and national events. However, within a few months it is hoped that France’s neighbours will resume their role as valued customers ready to show their confidence in France as a destination.
Lastly, this study shows that the professional meetings industry is likely to be affected by the crisis in the longer term, including in terms of the design of events themselves (with an increasing role given to the digitalisation and hybridisation of formats), their layout (less “intensive” spaces, closer to home, in the country, even outside) and their economic model which will need to be reinvented in order to find a new balance.