In mid-March, the United States was flipped on its head. We went from a nation on-the-go to a nation of slippers and Zoom meetings in the space of less than a week. As the coronavirus forced shut-downs across the country, the events and meetings industries pivoted quickly to provide virtual meetings for associations who relied on them for engaging, educating, and staying connected to members while in-person events were placed on hold.
Of course, going virtual was more than just about member engagement and maintaining functional communication with stakeholders. The revenue from these now-virtual events was crucial in keeping associations financially viable as well. To say taking events virtual on short notice this summer saved many associations from layoffs wouldn’t be hyperbolic.
How Big Are Virtual Events in Summer 2020?
The pivot to digital has been swift and mildly staggering in its scope. Online registration company, EventBrite, has some incredible stats that provide context to the surge in interest in virtual events, all in the course of just a few months’ time:
- EventBrite saw a 2,000% increase in virtual events happening year-over-year (April 2019 v 2020)
- 9x increase in online event searches in EventBrite in March alone
- 78% of online event ticket buyers purchase tickets to multiple events from the same creator/event organizer
Keep in mind that this is just data from one online platform. For more context, consider that Zoom went from 10 million average daily users in December 2019 to 300 million meeting participants each day. While not virtual events specifically, the adoption of online meetings has become completely normalized, out of necessity, in just a few weeks’ time.
Will the Pivot Last?
According to a 2018 Interactive Advertising Bureau report, COVD-19 didn’t ignite the growth of virtual platforms, but it certainly poured fire on the trend. At that time, 67% of consumers had already streamed live video content from a wide range of creators and organizers.
Consumers are getting more comfortable with live streaming events, and the accessibility of virtual events is made all the more appealing by the cost savings associated with them. In-person events require travel, lodging, and dining reimbursement, which means that the investment in sending staff to events can quickly balloon out of control from smaller associations. Comparatively speaking, registration for online events is usually very affordable. EventBrite says the average ticket price for a virtual event is just $29.
Digital v. Tangible
While it’s easy to see the appeal of virtual conferences and events, there’s that special something that will, seemingly always, hold them back. Listening to a speaker from a seat in an auditorium is, for many, simply better than listening through computer speakers. The chance meeting of a colleague or potential client is likely more meaningful in-person than in a chatbox. A social networking event at an exciting locale just has something more to it than a virtual happy hour. (Granted - introverts may disagree with that example.)
The Industry Has Changed - But What About Consumers?
When it comes to predicting the future trends of the meetings industry, the question is this; COVID-19 and the shut-downs associated with it may have changed meetings and forever, but has it changed consumers? Are they ready to skip travel, even when COVID-19 is in the rearview mirror, and attend conferences from the couch? Will associations send more staff to events virtually, at lower costs, rather than just send a top execs in-person?
Those are the questions many in the association industry are asking themselves, their members, and their vendors. If you’d like to weigh-in on these questions, we’d love to hear from you.
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