Recovery of the business events industry remains elusive as limitations and restrictions around the globe continue to threaten its survival.
In 2020, the industry invested heavily in preparing its businesses to deliver events that abide by safety measures and protocols.
While it has been proven that the success of COVID-safe events is possible, most conferences and meetings have moved online as companies seek to reduce costs and business travellers favour the convenience, value and safety of conducting meetings virtually in the comfort of their homes.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) predicted global GDP growth to be a ‘lacklustre’ 2.3 per cent. However, with the pandemic’s impact, the Economist Intelligence Unit Q2 Global Forecast 2020 now expects global output to contract by -2.5 per cent, an almost 5 per cent change in prediction.
The EIU report also highlights that the damage done to confidence and demand will be long lasting. It predicts that a rise in uncertainty will lead to increased precautionary savings among households and delayed business investment.
In terms of financial recovery, The World Economic Forum report predicts that this will be a gradual process. Global growth in 2021 will be 5.4 per cent; overall, this would leave 2021 GDP some six and a half percentage points lower than in the pre-COVID-19 projections of January 2020.
These predictions are cautionary in nature, due to the uncertainty that the pandemic brings even with the rollout of vaccines.
Diminishing cash flow and support
Multiple government support packages were introduced in an attempt to keep the economy afloat.
In Singapore, nearly SGD100 million was utilised to help citizens and businesses tide over the effects of the pandemic. However, many firms affected by extended closures suffered significant revenue losses that forced them to fold. While event agencies tried to pivot by going digital, many still operate with human resource cuts and staggered furloughs.
In Australia, conflicting guidelines for event approvals across the states and the financial implication to businesses with the impending conclusion of JobKeeper are impacting the confidence of event organisers and participants to make commitments.
According to the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA), the introduction of JobKeeper enabled many companies to survive throughout 2020. However, business conditions that saw the scheme being introduced have not altered for the industry, and in some cases, have worsened for 2021.
With the limitations and restrictions surrounding the meetings industry, most organisations continue to experience revenue loss more aligned to 70-100 per cent rather than the 30 per cent criteria. Yet, JobKeeper will conclude industry-wide in March 2021.
Dr Vanessa Findlay, Chair of BECA, commented: “We are not in the position of recovery we envisaged for early 2021 and continue to face extraordinary challenges to ensure the survival of the business events sector.”
Event organisers managing the financial risk of events are reliant on national participation. As a result of this uncertainty, events are cancelled for the first half of 2021. For participants, the perceived risk to fly interstate to attend a conference, exhibition or meeting is too high if there is a potential threat of border closures or enforced quarantine, which will affect them professionally, personally and financially.
The annual Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings (AIME) trade show, set to take place in Melbourne in March 2021, had a significant role in supporting recovery as a place where business events buyers and sellers come together to do business over the short to medium term. But it too had to cancel because of internal border uncertainty.
The future of the business events industry may seem bleak now, but we are hopeful that with the right support and advocacy, it is only a matter of time that the sector bounces back stronger than before.
Companies that adopt digital readiness may enable industry players to offer alternative options that ensure business continuity in the face of the pandemic or other future disruptions, but technology can never fully replace the bonds and experiences that in-person meetings bring.
Article image by Emily Morter on Unsplash