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Virtual events to dominate business event sector in 2021

Virtual events are the preferred option for business event owners and organisers for events scheduled in 2021, a survey from the Business Events Council of Australia has found.

Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) conducted a short survey of Australian business event owners and organisers to better understand barriers and confirm levels of confidence across 2021.

Attracting 149 responses, the survey found that the biggest barrier being faced by both owners and organisers in 2021 is uncertainty regarding future COVID-19 outbreaks and the corresponding tightening of travel and gathering restrictions. 

This was closely followed by financial risk, which is translating into boards and decision-makers being hesitant to commit to holding in-person business events.

The majority of organisers and owners have cancelled, postponed or moved to virtual for events planned in the first quarter of the 2021 calendar year. 

For events scheduled between January and March, 62 per cent have been cancelled, postponed or moved to virtual by business event organisers, and 30 per cent by business event owners. 

This is a theme that continues for events scheduled between April and June 2021, while event organisers and owners feel that they will be able to move to hybrid in-person and virtual event models by July 2021.  

Calendar year quarter Business event organisersBusiness event owners/hosts 
Q1 (Jan to Mar) 42% likely to be postponed or cancelled41% likely to move to be solely virtual events or likely to postpone
Q2 (Apr to Jun) 39% likely to postpone or are under consideration30% likely to postpone or under consideration
Q3 (Jul to Sep) 40% likely to be hybrid in-person and virtual events 49% likely to be hybrid in-person and virtual events 
Q4 (Oct to Dec) 49% likely to be solely in-person events    43% likely to be hybrid in-person and virtual events 
Business Events Council of Australia surveyed business event organisers and owners about their plans for 2021 events. 

BECA’s survey comes after the Australian Government announced its $50 million Business Events Grant program, which allows Australian businesses attending, sponsoring or exhibiting at an approved business meeting, conference or exhibition in 2021 to apply for an upfront grant to cover up to 50 per cent of their costs (between $10,000 and $250,000).

Are virtual events here to stay? 

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period, B2B media companies that also own and organise events were quick to pivot to providing virtual events in place of their scheduled in-person conferences or exhibitions. 

Some, like The Intermedia Group, created new divisions to service their own needs and their clients’ needs, others developed new technology to maximise the online event experience

Most B2B media and event companies thought about how they could provide more to their audience and clients through virtual event series and webinar experiences. 

Media consultant John Blondin said in a recent interview with NPN: “There’s also a lot of opportunities for publishers who have events associated with their products. Many are rethinking their model and gravitating to online events, and in doing so, recognising that it’s not going to generate the income that they were generating through live events.

“But the reality is that the margins on virtual events can be reasonable because the costs are significantly less than what they would be for a live event. It…comes down to the quality of content and the audience numbers.” 

NPN thoughts? 

Virtual events will continue to be an important part of the product offering for B2B media and event companies. They may replace low attendance events like seminars that don’t typically provide a high profit margin, but most likely they’ll be an add-on service to a media company’s existing in-person events. 

In-person events will return in time. Financially, they are a high-risk, high-return revenue stream, and the opportunity they provide to connect with audiences and clients face-to-face is unparalleled. A conference,  exhibition, or networking event done well drives engagement and loyalty with the media brands that surround it. 

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