While many event professionals and marketers are eager to get back to the live events they know and love, research shows that virtual events and event components are here to stay.
Covid may have forced the industry online in 2020, but advances in virtual event technology combined with changing attitudes towards remote working and commercial activities have given the industry plenty of reasons to continue investing in it as restrictions are lifted and normal activity begins to resume.
Underscoring this shift is a continued call to action to make the industry more sustainable. According to a recent report in the Independent, 85% of the event industry’s carbon footprint comes from travel. Sustainability is the number one challenge corporate event planners cite as needing to be addressed by 2024, according to an ICE corporate benchmarking report from 2021.
It’s not hard to see why virtual events are continuing to rise in popularity even as live events return. In fact, Amex GBT’s Global Meetings and Events Forecast predicted that 39% of meetings will be hybrid and 19% will be virtual in 2022, meaning that 58% of all events will have a heavy virtual component. A smaller study conducted by Explori on behalf of PCMA and AC Forum around the same time corroborated this, finding that 70% of survey respondents who intended to move forward with live events were planning a significant digital component,
Research from the Explori Global Recovery Insights report has revealed that 80% of senior level decision makers in the US and UK who had not participated in a virtual event prior to the pandemic have now tried them, and 44% of those are now more likely to organise their own digital event.
This is corroborated somewhat by a recent LinkedIn study that interviewed more than 1,800 marketers responsible for events across 13 counties, 85% of whom had held a virtual event in the previous year.
Gartner predicts that by 2024, 30% of technology providers with at least $100m in revenue will extend their reach to additional audiences and roles by shifting to a ‘virtual first’ event model for both first-party and third-party events, compared with less than 5% before the pandemic. For marketers who take a ‘virtual first’ approach, virtual-only events are likely to dominate their portfolio, although live events will likely continue to feature in their annual event programs.
The continued use of virtual events, particularly to deliver content-heavy programs and to expand the potential pool of live event attendees, may result in a re-tooling of event goals and success metrics. Where previously the quantity of attendees might have been a key KPI, success will now have to focus more on a more qualified audience and better engagement -- and for better or worse, virtual events are unparalleled in their ability to substantiate engagement on their platforms. This itself may motivate event marketers to use them more heavily where the virtual format doesn’t compromise delivering on stakeholder objectives.
Explori is the leading visitor and exhibition insight specialist in the events industry, working with some of the biggest event and exhibition companies in the world. To find out more about trends in the events industry, visit our Industry Reports hub.