Global DMC Partners (GDP), a centralized resource for virtual, hybrid and in-person events, recently shared the findings of its Q1 Meetings & Events Pulse Survey. Conducted from March 18 to April 9, 2021, GDP’s latest survey polled 583 respondents representing every aspect of the meetings and events industry and nearly every part of the world. The majority of participants were based in the United States (67 percent), followed by Canada (seven percent) and Mexico (six percent).
In addition to the new data, GDP also shared real-world best practices and engaged in a timely and informative discussion with a panel of industry experts. Led by GDP President & CEO Catherine Chaulet, the virtual panel included Becky Cavanaugh from Syneos Health, Brie Richards from Brightspot Incentives, Chelsey Taylor from MCW Events, Kim Hester from JNR Incorporated, Linda Pasquale from Allegis Group, Margaret Stafford from the American Bar Association and Venetia Campbell from Young Living Essential Oils.
Proof of vaccination and COVID-19 testing
While an impressive 80 percent of survey respondents reported having at least one shot or an appointment, demonstrating little fear of the vaccine amongst planners and suppliers, vaccination and testing requirements were hot topics during the webinar. A majority of the survey respondents (55.3 percent) did indicate that they are considering proof of vaccination for future programs. However, it appears that testing is the primary focus at this time as there is no way of obtaining vaccination status without falling into legal and privacy issues.
Several panelists reported success utilizing at-home, proctor-led testing kits, conducted via Zoom. Many shared the importance of having contingency plans in place as well as protocols if attendees test positive prior to leaving the event. One panelist noted that they have hired an on-site medical doctor for their entire program and have heavily relied upon their HR and legal teams throughout the planning process. Many panelists also recommended building an internal team to monitor changes in real time and having a COVID Compliance Officer (CCO) on site throughout the event.
While advance planning is critical, the challenge for returning to face-to-face programs is ensuring that protocols are maintained throughout the event. Chaulet reported that attendees are often so excited to meet again in person that they quickly forget the rules and restrictions. DMCs can help by making sure there is enough staffing to monitor and remind attendees of the protocols in place.
With regards to specific rules and regulations, all panelists mentioned that they are taking their cues from the local city, county, state and federal governments as well as working closely with hotel teams and DMCs. However, there is some concern that many venues have experienced furloughs and have not caught up in resources and training.
Further complicating matters for U.S. meetings and events, the CDC currently offers different guidelines for vaccinated versus non-vaccinated individuals. Many panelists expressed concerns with privacy and the logistics involved with identifying vaccinated versus non-vaccinated attendees.
At this time, the U.S.-based panelists reported that they are unsure if and when requiring attendees to be vaccinated will become mandatory. Some panelists expressed that their clients will not move forward with in-person events if this is the case and instead have opted to remain virtual.
With regards to the European market, Chaulet mentioned that they are keeping a close eye on the European Union’s new vaccine pass rollout and how they will be implementing proof to participate in some events and venues and allow international travelers within its borders.
Venue supply versus demand
While many expected that there would be great deals following the pandemic, planners are finding that pricing is still a challenge due to lack of availability. Further, there are higher costs associated with COVID implementations and social distancing. Several panelists expressed difficulty finding venues that can scale right now. Many shared that hotels are fully booked due to capacity restrictions and increased social events such as weddings that were also placed on hold due to the pandemic. Clients, however, are eager to get back to business, so they are entertaining destinations that were not on their original long lists. Planners are responding swiftly, testing out socially distanced excursions, breakouts and happy hours and conducting site visits to see how hotels and venues are scaling.
Dramatic shifts in employment
Another topic addressed by the panel was the dramatic shift in employment seen in the first quarter of 2021. The meetings industry saw a 19 percent drop in full-time employment status. Employees who had been furloughed or given reduced hours increased from five to 19 percent.
“Resources at both the planner and supplier levels are tight right now. With reduced staffing, we have heard from our clients that they are concerned if vendors are still capable of delivering great programs. This is where DMCs, with their on-the-ground knowledge and local expertise, can step in and serve as trusted counsel for their clients,” said Chaulet.
While these numbers are staggering, the panel also pointed out that they are starting to see a new hiring trend this quarter. As reported by one panelist, many companies are doing a worldwide pulse check with clients and vendors to understand who has pivoted and who is available for work. With so many leads and requests coming in due to the pent-up demand, there is a heightened concern that there may not be enough resources to service these programs all at once. Many companies are at capacity and are turning to partners, DMCs and freelance staffing solutions, both virtual and in-person, to ensure their event’s success.
In a live poll question, 59 percent of the webinar attendees reported that they are not hiring at this time. However, many anticipate hiring to take place in the fall, particularly as face-to-face programs return. The panel shared that those who are hiring are looking for specific skillsets in virtual experience and program development, offering hope and opportunity for those seeking work.
When are face-to-face meetings returning?
Predictably, there is more demand in 2021 for local meeting and event destinations (U.S. to U.S., Mexico to Mexico, Europe to Europe, Asia to Asia, etc.). However, for 2022 there is a larger interest in traveling abroad for face-to-face international meetings and events. Top destinations include the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico, where many hotels have on-site COVID testing already in place. Certainly, as borders reopen, airlift increases and government rules are further refined and clarified, we can expect that more destinations will be ready to host meetings and events and to get back to business in 2022.
For the full results of GDP’s Meetings & Events Pulse Survey, please visit http://bit.ly/GDPQ1Results.