WASHINGTON—According to a survey of destination management companies and event experts, 97% reported that their 2020 meetings and events were impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
The results are part of a Meetings & Events Pulse Survey from Global DMC Partners (GDP), a global network of independently owned destination management companies (DMCs) and creative event experts, which focused on the widespread impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic to the MICE industry. Conducted April 27 through May 4, 2020, the survey polled 374 respondents from the meetings and events industry. Of these, 93% were planners versus vendors or suppliers. While the survey touched nearly every part of the globe, the majority of respondents were based in the U.S. (64%), followed by Europe, the U.K. (10% respectively) and Canada (7%). Participants included third-party planners (30%), independent meeting planners (16%), associations (13%) as well as planners in technology, finance, pharmaceuticals, insurance and law.
2020 Budgets and Events
Compared to GDP’s previous Q1 2020 survey, 20% more planners are reporting a decrease in their meeting budgets for the remainder of this year, and 17% are reporting a cutback in their incentive budgets. These decreases are most apparent among planners outside of the U.S.
Fifty-six percent predict that they will operate 25% or less of their 2020 live events. Sixty-nine percent plan to go virtual or incorporate virtual aspects.
Only 13% stated that all 2020 programs have been canceled. Eighty-eight percent predict that some portion of their 2020 events will be or are already postponed to 2021. Thirty-seven percent said that at least half or more of their programs have been postponed to 2021.
When Will Events Return?
While the majority of survey participants were unsure about their budgets for 2021, 64% predict that they will host live events sometime between August 2020 and January 2021.
From the incentives side, most programs (52%) are still moving forward in 2021. For those not proceeding, only 5% are being replaced by gifts, 4% by cash, 3% by a virtual incentive event and 2% with the option of a personal trip.
“Incentive trips are irreplaceable because they uniquely increase the sense of loyalty to a company,” said Catherine Chaulet, president/CEO, Global DMC Partners. “We hear from so many of our clients that continued education combined with a memorable travel experience is a key motivational tool to help retain top talent. This crisis, if anything, proves the importance of employee and key partners’ recognition. Corporations already see how critical incentives will be to build employee morale back after such tough times.”
What Face-to-Face Meetings Will Look Like in the Future
For a glimpse into the future, Global DMC Partners asked respondents what new initiatives they will add to live programs. Not surprisingly, the vast majority (90%) said that they will be adding hand-sanitizer stations, placing restrictions to maintain physical distancing between participants (79%), reducing attendee counts (61%) and eliminating buffets to serve plated or boxed meals (66%).
Other new practices include only contracting hotels, venues and event vendors with verifiable sanitation processes (60%), requiring face masks for attendees (40%), providing temperature checks (34%) and providing medical and EMT personnel on staff (28%).
More than 51% said that they will offer a virtual option in addition to live events.
Twenty-three percent said they will have programs closer to home, eliminating international travel in the short term. Eleven percent responded that they are considering ground transportation changes, and 5% are considering private chartered flights.
Finally, respondents were polled for the top challenge that they expect to face once the COVID-19 crisis dissipates. Travel restrictions are predicted to be the top challenge for planners based outside of the U.S., while general fear is the primary concern for U.S. planners.
“With COVID-19 treatments and vaccinations becoming more of a reality, the implementation of health and sanitation protocols worldwide, and seeing many government travel restrictions lifted, I am confident of a strong rebound of face-to-face meetings and events,” said Chaulet. “2021 is already looking strong worldwide with high demand for meetings and events taking place in Q2. Full back to normal is expected to start late 2021 once the entire travel supply chain, from airlines to hotels and all hospitality related services, are back in place.”