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It's official — England has reopened for business on all fronts, with the real world events industry kicking into overdrive. The first wave of legal club nights, festivals, and conferences since the physical industry collapsed last spring under the weight of rising infections are already underway, and the sense of relief is tangible. As is a sense of the unknown.
The events industry is entering uncharted territory, no longer safely hidden beneath the shrink wrap of masks, with so-called COVID passports in most countries only a government recommendation. This means the hard won freedoms are not guaranteed to last, with worrying coronavirus case numbers still dominating news stories meaning the following months will be pivotal in dictating how winter pans out for our sector.
One thing is for sure, though — things will never be the same again. The old, pre-pandemic world is now a distant memory. The events industry has changed almost beyond recognition in the time between March 2020 and today, but what does that actually mean? Categorically, comprehensively, catastrophically… irreversibly?
This is a huge question, so we decided to put it to our client base. After all, who else understands what has happened to these businesses better than those who are actually promoting and managing events themselves? The results reveal plenty not just about the decisions that have been made, but also the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
We surveyed 50 event managers and organisers from across a broad sector of industries, ranging from music festivals to corporate conference organisers and everything in between. We asked a series of questions (which you can see in full at the end of this post) asking about their experience hosting/managing events over the last 12 months.
Each was invited not just to answer specific questions, but follow this up with more in-depth details revealing more about their individual experiences as event professionals in the COVID-19 era.
From these responses our team have spent recent weeks analysing and assessing all that data, tallying up trends and digging deep into the details to produce a landmark document. Namely, the first Eventcube Quarterly Industry Report. Eyes to the front, then, because ignoring this information would be foolish.
The majority of respondents had no experience hosting virtual events previous to the pandemic - 81% had never explored virtual events before the pandemic.
It should go without saying that virtual events are everywhere, but the way in which new organisations have adopted this technology speaks volumes on many levels.
Firstly, it shows event companies are often agile and adaptable. But more importantly, it tells us how much virtual events have become the expectation across different sectors in order for brands and other organisations to build an engaged audience.
Given that 81% of respondents had never hosted a virtual event before the pandemic, this result represents a sea change in how events will be run into the future. It proves that virtual events have in the most part been a huge success, so much so that they will become a vital part of the future of the events industry.
Hedda Ocampo - Head of KTX.PH Platform at ABS-CBN Films summed up the benefits going virtual has brought to the Phillipine ticketing and event giant:
"Before the pandemic virtual events were not yet fully 100% accepted by Filipino audiences. We had limited clients who were confident in mounting their events on KTX. [Then] people started to embrace the new normal and we mounted more and more events. It was an amazing year for KTX, we have never hosted so many events, even before the pandemic." - Hedda Ocampo of KTX.
Accessibility and inclusivity are the biggest benefits of virtual, but not the only advantages - 35% see ease of access / higher attendance as the main benefit of virtual events 30% say attracting a more diverse audience.
The internet is international and everything is connected, so events held at a URL clearly have the potential to attract a bigger audience than IRL. But it's more interesting to note that around ⅓ respondents believed audiences had become more diverse — for more read our case study on the accessible virtual symposium we produced for Arts & Disability Ireland. Meanwhile, 17.5% of clients believe virtual is less demanding on the team, and costs less overall.
The number of events fell, and more prolific organisations suffered most.
Overall, our clients hosted less events during the pandemic than in the 12 months preceding it. While 2019 saw 40% of respondents run between one and five events, this jumped to 56.2% for the past year. The biggest fall was among those who had previously run more than 100 events annually — dropping from 12.5% pre-COVID to just 4.2% after the virus struck.
Budgets also fell, and not necessarily for obvious reasons - 75% said they have decreased their events budget since the pandemic, 30% benefited from venue cost savings, 17.5% say virtual events are less expensive than traditional.
Suffice to say it can cost less to run a large virtual event than hire a huge exhibition centre, but very few Eventcube clients were able to use this to invest in virtual events. All round, 75% said they had decreased their events budget since the pandemic, even with savings on hiring sites and physical logistics, confirming just how much of an impact on business coronavirus has had.
Events went international, despite the lack of travel - 53.2% saw growth in global audiences.
Virtual events are always going to have the capacity to bring in large crowds from different locations, and these results show this. More than half of all respondents saw their audiences become more international during the pandemic, with people logging on and tuning in from across the globe.
"Budgets decreased last year, there was a definite feeling from clients that virtual is cheaper and savings can be made. [We] definitely see the value in virtual events, for increasing audiences etcetera. Particularly if guests are reducing their travel, however we would encourage a hybrid model where possible, particularly where networking is a key element of the event’s success." - Marguerite Peck, of UK music event specialist Winter French
Most organisers saw a difference in attendance - 53.4% saw the number of international attendees increase.
As we have mentioned a number of times, virtual opens your event up to people across the globe and therefore has a greater chance of pulling in a larger audience. Of course there are limitations in technology, but to put this into context in the past year we've seen online festivals attended by over 1 million, so there's really no reason not to think big.
So there you have it — the truth about how the global events industry has really changed since the you-know-what began. We've seen a digital revolution sweep through the sector, born from necessity, but businesses and audiences have not only enthusiastically adopted this, they quickly saw its huge potential early on and embraced the opportunities online presents.
Of course we all know that, for the time being at least, virtual cannot replicate in real life connections and contacts. But the truth is this pandemic is not done with us yet, things may get worse again and there's a very strong chance the virus itself is here to stay. That means over the coming months, the current situation — teetering on the brink of lockdowns with reduced physical capacities — will prevail. With that in mind we're expecting virtual events to go nowhere, and hybrid — combining digital and in real life — to take on a new role as the go-to format for all events. We'll see what happens in our next quarterly report.
View the survey results in full HERE.