Live events will bounce back and they will bounce back better

By Hamish Reid, Associate Director at MMGY Hills Balfour

The last month has seen a significant shift for business events with corporate companies now talking about ‘when’ their business events will be live rather than questioning if they will ever be live again. Our extensive conversations with industry leaders and key buyers have revealed that corporate planners and agency planners are focused on two questions: when their live events will take place and in what shape they will take form. 

When will live events take place? No one can provide an exact date. However, whilst contracts for live events cannot be signed until government guidelines allow, the planning is taking place now. The consensus amongst planners is that now is the time to invest in their customers, explore an array of venues options and present engaging, creative ideas for live events giving them a competitive edge. 

The question of what shape they will take form is more complex. Even across the different nuances of customer or employee engagement events, there are similar factors at play. These include easy and frequent flight access both to and from a destination, a reality of high healthcare service in a post COVID-19 era, perception of cleanliness and contemporary facilities, recognised insurance coverage and a high level of local population vaccinated. Audience expectations are also evolving with a greater demand for a sustainable event experience. Hotels, venues and destinations will need to reinforce their green credentials and demonstrate how they support regenerative travel.  

These heightened expectations will also mean an increased focus on an empathetic perspective to the event design. After almost a year of collective lockdown, when people finally come together for live events, organisers will need to deliver engaging content and curate experiences that are more than the event itself. From anticipation, through the event and to the retrospective of the event, we are going to witness braver, more challenging and differentiating content that ultimately offers better measured increased value to the attendee. The venue and destination choice will also be an extension of this value. 

As to how hybrid of live and virtual events fits into this, there are two contrasting arguments. One perspective is to deliberately create the same experience for both live and virtual attendees so there is no FOMO whilst the polar opposite view sees hybrid as increasing the audience who will then crave to be at the next event in person because the experience is designed to be deliberately different! One regrettably derived but long-term consequence of this forced hiatus of business events is that the true financial and human value of them to a company, and to the individual, is now being properly recognised. Mike Seaman CEO of Raccoon Events summed it up best when he said “you can’t recreate accidental collisions and serendipity of a live event virtually. To accidentally bump into a key prospect in the aisle or at a coffee break – you have to be there in person”.

It was only when we were unable to attend live events that we were able to truly respect and understand their value. Companies have long been using the digital space to share information but where there is a business opportunity and the need for a social connection is strong, then they will still meet in person. However, as we tentatively emerge into this new world, it is worth remembering, it isn’t a fight between live events and virtual events but how we create space for both giving customers additional choice and value.

What is important for now is for suppliers to stay engaged and provide support. Whilst organisers and agencies might not be armed with multiple RFPs at this stage, they are eager to keep their destination intelligence fresh from understanding local vaccination programmes and R rates to sustainable business practices in a rapidly evolving landscape. At MMGY Hills Balfour, we are busy arming them with the latest relevant information, showcasing the variety of new and existing venues and destination choices and helping them navigate this new landscape so that as soon as the government gives the greenlight, they are ready and raring to go.