Most Planners Are Still Doing Business, Finds Latest NMG Global Survey

U.S. respondents are most optimistic about an early return, but large meetings will suffer.

by Loren G. Edelstein, Northstar Meetings Group

The worldwide pandemic has been particularly harsh for the meetings industry, but a deep dive into planners’ individual experiences and expectations reveals that a majority are working on future business and anticipating fundamental changes, according to Northstar Meetings Group’s latest Pulse Survey, conducted from April 14 to April 21, 2020.

“The future of events is changing, and we can shape it but we don’t have much control over it at the moment,” commented one respondent. At the same time, planners are looking ahead and preparing for significant changes in the post-COVID-19 meetings world.

These insights are based on 1,045 meeting planner respondents from across the globe, with about three-quarters located in the United States. Survey participants represent a wide range of industry segments, including association and convention planners (one-third), third parties (26 percent) and corporate planners (19 percent).

Planners Are Still Working
Regardless of location, size and type of meeting or event, meeting planners’ experiences are remarkably similar. First, the majority have held onto their jobs, with 83 percent still working full time. Fourteen percent have been furloughed, either full- or part-time. Just three respondents are out of work and don’t plan to stay in the meetings industry, while another 23 who have lost their jobs are hoping to find new employment in meetings and events.

Meanwhile, the business of meeting planning has not stopped: Forty percent of those working are currently sourcing and booking events, and 36 percent are researching for future events but not yet booking at this time.

For many, this is a tough time to do business, the survey confirms. Twelve percent are finding it “very difficult” to work with meeting suppliers, and another 47 percent report “it’s been more difficult than usual.” This finding is consistent across geographies.

Getting Back to Business
Planners in the U.S. are slightly more optimistic about meetings returning as early as this summer than those in other regions. Eighteen percent are holding steady to rescheduled dates for events that will take place prior to September, while somewhat fewer share that expectation in Canada (14 percent), U.K./Europe (12 percent) and Asia (13 percent).

At the same time, respondents predict a downward trend in the number and size of events they will plan after the COVID-19 pandemic passes. Twenty-seven percent expect to plan fewer meetings overall, while 35 percent say it’s too soon to speculate.

Large Events Will Lag Behind
The most significant dip is anticipated by those who plan large meetings of more than 5,000 delegates; nearly half (47 percent) expect a decrease in the number of such events they will plan when business returns. Meanwhile, many expect to see a greater number of small gatherings, particularly those with 50 or fewer attendees.

Furthermore, planners foresee a decline in the number of events they will plan in specific meeting categories, including international meetings (48 percent), festivals and fairs (41 percent), trade shows (35 percent), sports/esports events (32 percent), corporate meetings (32 percent) and government meetings (31 percent).

Among other key findings:

Large venues will lose business.

Coinciding with a decrease in large events, planners expect to use large venues less often. Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of respondents will use cruise ships less frequently following the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by fewer bookings of gaming properties (32 percent), sports facilities (31 percent) and convention centers (26 percent).

New skills and services are needed.

Recognizing the need to pivot, fully 82 percent expect an increased need for virtual event platforms, along with virtual site visits (76 percent), education specific to health/safety (74 percent), virtual hosted-buyer events (66 percent) and professional services for ensuring the health and safety of meeting participants (64 percent).

New precautions will be necessary on-site.

From hand sanitizers to room design, an overwhelming majority of planners are considering the following for their future events: providing hand sanitizers (88 percent), implementing social responsibility best practices/protocols (75 percent), displaying signage addressing prevention and controls (74 percent), new meeting room designs to allow distance between attendees (66 percent) and measures for reducing and managing crowd densities (65 percent).

There’s still a lot to worry about.

Amid such an all-encompassing crisis, concerns are many and all relative, but the ones that planners are “very concerned” about from a business perspective are policies restricting business travel, cited by 53 percent, reduced meeting/event budgets (47 percent), less demand for in-person meetings (42 percent), hotel and venue safety preparedness (40 percent) and establishing or adopting new best practices for gatherings (38 percent).

Northstar Meetings Group’s Pulse Survey is conducted every two weeks, capturing changes in sentiment and expectations as the meetings industry responds to new challenges and imperatives brought by the worldwide pandemic. Meeting planners are encouraged to participate in every Pulse Survey, so that we may share the most current perspective on your collective needs with industry stakeholders worldwide. Respondents have the benefit receiving the results in advance of publication, if they so choose.