The summer Olympics are set to commence in July, and the host city, Tokyo, is being put to the test in a big way, attempting to conduct a major global event as much of the world continues to battle with the pandemic.
Scaled-down massively, the event has already been delayed by 12 months and the latest plans only allow for domestic spectators, although the most recent discussions suggest banning onlookers altogether.
The impact of COVID-19
The pandemic conditions have all but decimated the industry of meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE), with hybrid and online events experiencing mixed successes across the sector. Sports events, music festivals, and more were frozen in their tracks, and historically long-standing events were canceled or postponed in their droves.
According to Allied Market Research, in pre-pandemic forecasts, the global events industry was expected to reach a value of $1.6 trillion by 2028, already at $1.1 trillion in 2019.
Then COVID-19 came to town, and by March 2020, the industry had lost a reported $16.5 billion. In a survey conducted by EventMB at that time, as much as 90% of event professionals reported that part or all of their business had evaporated.
Virtual meets hybrid
‘Virtual’ was the event buzzword of 2020, and ‘hybrid’ has taken over in 2021. Whilst many events are currently remaining fully virtual and plan to see out the year that way, many plans are also underway for events to be hosted that include a blend of virtual and in-person participants.
A trial period for hybrid events was held during a brief interlude between European lockdowns late last year. The main Mipim event, an international property fair, was initially scheduled in Cannes for March 2020.
The fair typically attracts over 20,000 delegates, but organizers replaced it with a hybrid event in September 2020 in Paris — a smaller event with just 1,500 in attendance and thousands more in virtual participants.
Reformatting, postponements, and cancellations hit the event company’s bottom lines hard, of course, but they also impacted a broader scope of global business in a substantial way.
The power of exhibitions and events for nurturing networking, deal-making, and direct-marketing opportunities is hard to replicate effectively in virtual settings. That said, here’s how a range of event sectors have adapted:
1. Automotive industry launches
Thanks to the online leaks fueled by social media, the days of the big new model reveal having guaranteed exclusivity were long gone even before the Geneva Motor Show was canceled in 2020. Many major car companies had already concluded that there were more effective ways to utilize their marketing budgets.
Consequently, many manufacturers opted with relative ease to instead utilize online platforms for product launches, or host virtual press event launches. In February, for example, Mitsubishi debuted ‘Outlander’, its new flagship model, to the world via Amazon live.
2. Finance services events
In 2020, the world’s largest events in the financial services sector were either canceled, postponed, or held virtually. As COVID-19 continues to bring about uncertainty, 2021 will see many event plans altered again.
For example, Sibos, a banking conference, is going virtual for a second year in 2021, hoping to return to an in-person event by 2022. PayExpo also had to postpone its main event until October of this year, sticking to virtual-only events until then.
To adapt, PayExpo’s virtual event series, PayExpo Digital, has been enabling industry professionals to join online discussions and access on-demand webinars.
3. Food industry events
After COVID-19 led to the cancellation of many food trade shows across the world, some opted for virtual events, with mixed results.
Organizers have begun reopening their doors this year, although mostly in Asia and the Middle East, with Foodex Tokyo and Gulfood in Dubai among the food industry shows that have so far taken place in 2021.
Some physical events are set to return in North America and Europe this year, albeit with restrictions. The Summer Fancy Food event, for example, is scheduled to return to New York in September but will be limited to domestic exhibitors as a result of venue space restrictions.
Across such events, a range of safety measures is being implemented, including capping the number of people in the stands and allowing for wider aisles. There is understandably a strong desire to return to physical events in this sector, as tasting the food is high on the list of attractions.
4. Sporting events and music festivals
After a long and frustrating 18-month hiatus, festivals, sports, concerts, and other big events are set to return to their pre-COVID-19 glory in no time.
According to data from PredictHQ, June is expected to be the first month since before COVID-19 took hold that US events will bring in over a billion dollars. Live Nation, an event company that happens to own Ticketmaster, has reported that bookings for major tour dates for the next year are up double digits when compared to 2019.
Precautionary measures will be taken at events nationwide. Many venues will require a vaccine passport or even proof of a negative COVID-19 test to allow entrance. Other precautions such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and capping event capacities will be common, although these will lift as governments retire such mandates.
According to crowd control experts at Todoos, with such an eager return to live events after the frustrations of lockdown, effective crowd control will be more important than ever. “Ensuring the safety of crowds is always paramount at large events, but the added pressures of adhering to COVID-19-related measures and maintaining public safety amongst groups of people who have been desperately waiting to let loose may prove an additional challenge,” they said.
What’s next for events?
Although recovery is in sight, the pandemic continues to impact the events industry, and safety must remain the primary concern for event organizers. Plenty hinges on the vaccine roll-out and how successfully it continues to override the hold that COVID-19 has had.
Ongoing restrictions to the travel industry are another considerable barrier to forward planning large-scale events. In any case, the number of attendees across all event sectors is likely to remain significantly smaller for some time to come.
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