By Brad Foster

The largest survey conducted of meeting and event planners in the Asia Pacific has discovered business event practitioners and suppliers remain positive of a return to face to face in 2021.

Findings of the latest PCMA COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard survey series released this week, which included participation by 531 event industry professionals, showed half of planner respondents believe that smaller local and regional events will thrive before national and international groups gather.

Survey respondents came from Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, China, India, Korea and Japan, with 342 planners and 189 suppliers in total.

Possibly the biggest finding – and one that could have been predicted – was that 65 per cent of planners said that the use of digital event technology will highly impact or extensively impact their face to face attendance at events in the next six months.

Thirty-two per cent of planners said their upcoming event will be entirely online.

In 2021, 28 per cent believe small in-person events will go hybrid, with digital versions for larger events. Sixteen per cent believe people will be hesitant to travel to meet face-to-face, with 12 per cent believing there will be a pent-up demand for all groups to meet face-to-face.

Despite the optimism for a return to face-to-face events, at least for small events in 2021, more than half (52 percent) said COVID-19 has impacted their revenue by greater than 75 percent when compared to the same period in 2019, while around one quarter said they had a decline of revenue of between 51 and 75 percent.

Forty per cent believed their revenue would be down 25 to 50 per cent in 2021, and 24 per cent said it would be down 51 to 75 per cent. Of greater concern is that 10 per cent said their revenue would be down more than 75 percent next year.

Participants cited their biggest financial challenge regarding planning as being able to budget for a hybrid event coupled with how to budget for expectations for face-to-face attendance. Not surprising, almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of participants ranked designing digital event experiences as the top skill they need to pursue for professional success.

In terms of movement around the region, two-thirds (60 per cent) of participants said they would only travel within their own country for a business event in 2020, while 10 per cent would travel in the APAC region and only two per cent would consider traveling to the United States.

What suppliers are saying

On the supplier side, 68 per cent agreed that the rise in the use of digital event technology will impact face-to-face attendance over the next six months. However, they were slightly more optimistic about the return to in-person events than planners in 2021.

Forty-three per cent of suppliers also said that they see smaller local and regional events thriving before national and international groups gather and 23 per cent (compared to 28 per cent of planners) believed that small in-house events will be hybrid with a digital version for larger audiences.

The COVID-19 impact to the overall supplier revenue for 2020 was greater than for planners, with 66 per cent of suppliers compared to 52 per cent of planners noting a decline greater than 75 percent.

In order to prepare successfully for the business events industry in the recovery, suppliers said they needed to develop sales and marketing approaches best suited to a post-COVID-19 market (66 per cent), learn how to design live experiences with more stringent hygiene standards (55 per cent), and upskill in how to design digital event experiences (44 per cent).

Less than half (48 per cent) of suppliers would only travel within their country for a business event in 2020, however 22 per cent said they would go anywhere if the program was worth it. Seventeen per cent would travel within APAC and nearly none — one per cent — would consider travelling to the United States.