We recently convened a roundtable of senior-level conference organizers to discuss risk tolerance and the forces that are shaping their 2021/22 event strategies and decisions. Three primary risk categories are emerging as organizations weigh their options for major conferences in 2021:
- Mitigating financial risk
- Member considerations and communications
- Health, safety and duty of care
Mitigating Financial Risk
Financial predictions. Financial challenges continue to be at the forefront for many associations. Planners are expected to forecast revenue and expenses without data or clear guideposts. Some planners report that they’ve reworked attendance and budget predictions seven or more times. Many question the efficacy of these exercises while the future outlook is still cloudy.
Hybrid is costly. Everyone agrees that planning hybrid events takes significantly more time, money and effort. Many are still seeking clarity on the investment vs. experience priorities for serving an in person and virtual audience simultaneously.
Contract concerns. As optimism grows for business events returning later in 2021, hotels are testing the waters more aggressively on signed agreements. Challenges abound for event professionals looking to reduce housing block commitments.
Future bookings are getting more difficult as organizations are more reluctant to take on new risks. In an effort to reduce and manage risks, venues and planners are adopting new contract clauses. No question, negotiating contracts is going to get more complicated as the industry rebounds.
Member Considerations and Communications
Transparent communication. There is a growing need for associations to be transparent with their members particularly regarding go/no-go decisions for future events. A best practice is to determine and communicate a date or time frame for making these decisions. Making promises and keeping them helps earn trust and mitigate attendee concerns.
Variables for face-to-face timing. Audience characteristics and demographics are driving the timing and desire for in person events. Some planners report a strong demand to return to in- person events as soon as possible. Others, particularly those whose members are dealing with travel bans, or have large global audiences, are more likely to be in the camp that the soonest they can meet face-to-face is 2022.
Organizations that prioritize education and networking over expos are most likely to move forward with hybrid events. Event business models that are traditionally more reliant on 50% or more of their revenue from exhibitors have a more urgent need to get back to in-person. We still haven’t heard of any examples of successful online trade shows.
Health, Safety and Duty of Care
Organizers are hungry for guidance regarding onsite health and safety measures, facility capacity issues and what impact herd immunity will have on business travel. In addition to the many online resources, there are a growing number of vendors who can help inform the safety plans for in-person events. That said, like the enormous growth we saw in virtual event platforms, vetting these vendors is challenging and time consuming. Local and state regulations are all over the place with some venues providing specific guidance and others basically leaving the decisions up to the planner. Planners are trying to understand how their organization’s liabilities are impacted by duty of care.
Bottom line, for most of our clients, the return of face-to-face events can’t come soon enough. However, there are very real concerns on how staffing and bandwidth will be impacted in this time of uncertainty. In part two I will explore those concerns and share some strategies for overcoming obstacles that our roundtable participants are employing.
What contract concerns are you running up against? What other elements of risk are top of mind?