The global vaccination roll out is fuelling confidence in the return of in-person events towards the end of this year, with many PEOs expecting attendance to still be dominated by a domestic audience.
As a result, PEOs told TTGmice that a virtual or online element will remain for their upcoming events. Some, based on this projection, have gone on to kick off fresh, virtual-only shows.
Claude Blanc, portfolio director, IBTM and WTM, said: âWe are optimistic that our in-person IBTM World event â a flagship event on the IBTM calendar â will be able to go ahead in Barcelona this December, alongside a hybrid element.â
Similarly for Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group, she is confident that their next live show â IMEX America scheduled to take place from November 9 to 11 â will be able to proceed as planned.
Bauer elaborated: âThe vaccine programme is a major determining factor as it builds confidence in the ability to travel and meet in person. Weâre confident the programme will have significantly progressed by the time IMEX America takes place in November.â
This sentiment is echoed by Blanc, who has observed a “renewed sense of optimism in our industry and will continue to be a major factor in rebuilding confidence”.
However, event owners are bearing in mind the volatility of the pandemic, which could bring about sudden lockdowns or border closures.
Michael Duck, executive vice president, commercial development for Informa Markets, said: âOur strategy is to stay close to our markets, follow the government and relevant health authoritiesâ advice, as well as listen to our customersâ view on whether they feel confident enough to return.â
Meanwhile, Martin Ecknig, CEO of Messe Berlin, asserted that for exhibitors, the delivery of a safe event is not the âultimate challengeâ. This is because the “uncertainty lies with individuals and their willingness to travel”.
In clear indication that virtual events will be around even when in-person events return in full force, Ecknig shared that Messe Berlin is developing new concepts under Messe Plus, which âinclude virtual elements and address the basic need to make direct contactâ.
Similarly, IBTM has permanently added the IBTM Wired event to its portfolio. The inaugural event will take place from June 28 to June 1, 2021, and bring business events professionals together for networking sessions, and a programme of live and on-demand education sessions.
âIncorporating online as part of the mix will give our community the opportunity to engage with new markets like never before by offering more flexibility and extra layers of engagement,â Blanc said.
In preparation for IMEX America, Bauer shared that the team will be launching âa series of digital activationsâ that will âpave the wayâ for the live show in November.
Duck added that Informa has been deploying a hybrid model since its return to the show floor, since its âstrong comebackâ in various markets.
âOur events in mainland China and Japan, including China Beauty Expo, CBME and PROJECT Tokyo, have attracted almost as many participants as before the pandemic, albeit mainly domestic exhibitors and visitors while travel restrictions remain in place. We have also held tradeshows in Thailand and Taiwan.â
All shows were concurrently opened to international participants through digital channels to help buyers and sellers connect. Duck said digital experiences, while complementary, will not replace live events, and added that they will remain part of Informaâs long-term strategy.
Despite the strengths of virtual events, Ecknig warned that the âconsumption of online content is approaching a saturation pointâ.
PEO chiefs also agree that there is no replacement for real-life meetings and face-to-face experiences, and are eager for in-person events to return soon.
âVirtual has many advantages, but you canât beat the excitement of a live event, and the chance meetings that occur as a result,â noted Blanc.
Bauer noted: âVirtual events…canât offer the same depth of experience or interaction that meeting face-to-face does. There is a pent up demand to meet in person â to be able to look someone in the eye and shake their hand is a powerful way of connecting people, building relationships and creating memories.â
To restart the exhibitions industry, Duck said exhibition organisers need to work collaboratively with governments, health authorities and industry associations to reopen tradeshows. He cited Singapore as an example of having restarted events in a safe manner and that the country’s safe events plan is a “great catalyst for reigniting the industry”.