Live events preferred but online content poses competition: UFI, Explori study

Hybrid or virtual events are the new normal, but experts caution that organising an online event is very different from a virtual one, with more to consider

An ongoing Global Recovery Project research conducted by Explori, UFI and the Society for Independent Show Organizers has found an overwhelming preference for face-to-face events, with opportunities for networking regarded as being the strongest advantage of such business gatherings.

More than half of 9,000 respondents have experienced an online-only event, and the majority prefer meeting face-to-face

The study, which drew more than 9,000 responses from 30 countries, noted that around half of respondents have now experienced an online-only event in some format, with two thirds of exhibitors having spoken at a third-party event, or run their own online event.

As of early August, only 13 per cent of exhibitors had paid to sponsor a third-party online event.

Both visitors and exhibitors rate live events more highly across almost all aspects. Networking is seen as a particular strength of live events, with 77 per cent of exhibitors and 83 per cent of visitors stating that face-to-face events were much better than online in this respect.

However, visitors recognise that online-only events offer a reduced cost of attending and are beginning to compete with face-to-face events in the quality of the content they can offer.

In fact, 52 per cent of visitors felt online-only events were as good as, if not better than live events in their content offering.

Respondents were more likely to attend a new event remotely compared to a familiar one, and 79 per cent showed some some interest in attending a hybrid event as an online-only delegate.

“This global survey delivers key insights to organisers as they plan ahead. It underlines the clear preference that people want to meet in person to do business. At the same time, it gives a clear roadmap for areas where digital events need to evolve to become a permanent fixture in a hybrid future for the business events industry,” said Kai Hattendorf, UFI CEO.

Sophie Holt, global strategy director with Explori, added: “Online and hybrid seem to have a complimentary role to play alongside live events. Not only will they give reassurance to visitors who are concerned about safety in the short term, but still want to connect with their community, but they may also have an important role to play in bringing new audiences to established events.

“This could form part of the customer journey, with online-only events acting as qualification and conversion tools for a flagship live event, or giving sponsors access to a totally new audience whose needs are better met by the virtual setting.”

Global Recovery Project research work will continue, with a further study in the near future to understand the sentiments of visitors and exhibitors, including their views on different aspects of the digital event formats.

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