9 Major Event Industry Trends in 2021
The coronavirus accelerated changes that would have taken years to catch on and much of the industry is still catching up.
The $1.5 trillion worldwide event industry isn’t expected to fully return to normal until at least 2023. There will continue to be major, and often permanent, shifts in the industry for years to come.
Despite this, the event industry is expected to experience a CAGR of 11.2% from 2021 to 2028.
Keep reading to learn about the rapidly changing event industry trends for 2021 and beyond.
1. Hybrid Events
Virtual events boomed in 2020, with 52,000 happening on just one platform alone – a 1000% increase from the previous year.
Though professionals can look to a future that allows for more in-person events, it’s likely that virtual is here to stay. If not completely, at least as a part of a new hybrid event model.
Searches for “hybrid event” have increased 292% in the last two years.
According to event professional community EventMB’s 2021 research, 71% of event planners said they would continue to employ a digital strategy even after live events return, and 67% agree that hybrid is the future of events.
Event management solution Bizzabo conducted a survey of industry professionals and found that 97% of respondents expect to see more hybrid events going forward.
Hybrid events allow for the flexibility and reach of a virtual event, but the connection and engagement of an in-person option.
To meet the demand for events that can offer a seamless experience in person and online, many new startups are hitting the scene.
Canapii is a hybrid events platform launched in mid-2020 that will help make creating and planning hybrid events easier. Hopin, a virtual event platform launched a hybrid event product in December of 2020 and secured a huge amount of funding.
As hybrid events become more common, what exactly will they look like?
There’s still room to grow, but for their 2021 Americas Connect conference, IACC is replacing their one large conference in favor of localized “pods.” These pods will operate in-person, but will all be connected virtually to deliver the experience of a full-sized conference.
Infographic explaining the web of local in-person and virtual pods from IACC
In other cases, hybrid events may take place primarily online, but offer upgrade packages for an in-person meetup.
Event Tech Live is one such event that is designed mainly around virtual access but reintroduces a live element with two live stages.
Others, like the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Global Summit in April, are primarily in-person, with the content also made available online.
The hybrid event outlook for 2021 will likely include many different configurations of in-person and virtual offerings.
2. Events as PR
In his January state of the industry presentation, founder and executive director of the Event Leadership Institute Howard Givner predicts that corporate events will shift “From [a] revenue source to [a] marketing vehicle.”
There’s no limit to the number of attendees that can gain access to a virtual event. So in this way, online event have become a form of mass communication akin to PR.
Givner uses Microsoft’s 2020 conference as an example. In 2019, they charged $2,395 per person to attend and saw 6,000 attendees. In 2020, the event was free. And 197,000 people showed up.
Many are following this same lead: 80% of organizers are now offering free registration to their events.
As the reach of events expands, the messaging will likely change to accommodate a less niche audience at the top of the sales funnel.
Making tickets free also means that the profitability of events has decreased.
To recoup losses, many companies have pivoted their money-making strategies to include a longer-term ROI and robust sponsorships.
At their 2020 virtual conference, VentureBeat reported earning a greater profit than their in-person event the previous year, and credit virtual’s increased “ways to track the impressions that sponsors made on the audience.”
To meet the demand for virtual event sponsorships, platforms like Bizzabo have arisen, which offers easy-to-use sponsor profiles and data that makes it easier to secure sponsorships.
Searches for “Bizzabo” have increased 83% over the last five years.
3. Micro Events
In 2019 the average event attendance for a meeting or conference was 4,932 people.
In the next year, that number will likely be a lot smaller.
2020 saw scaled-back events take center stage: Micro weddings, pandemic pod meetups, and quarenteams are all new terms to describe the changing event space.
Searches for “micro wedding” have increased 423% in the last two years.
Aside from health concerns, there are two main driving factors behind this trend: health and ROI.
After the industry experienced $30 billion in losses during the initial stages of the pandemic, many event professionals are struggling to find the funds to put on large-scale events. Scaled-back events are more feasible and pose a smaller financial risk.
4. A Year-Round Event Cycle
Major companies have historically typically held one yearly conference or event.
Now that smaller virtual events are becoming more common, events can be put on more often, and the conversations they spark can continue online for years to come, blurring the line between one ‘event’ and the next.
The tech has responded to this shift, with many event platforms now offering an ongoing community feature.
For example, the event platform Pathable allows companies to create landing pages that offer year-round content and community. With features to meet this trend, it’s no surprise that this platform is seeing a huge surge in interest.
Search interest in “Pathable” has increased 383% in the last five years.
5. Professional Upskilling
The rapid changes in the events industry called for changes in structure, technology, and professional skills which will continue to emerge in the next year.
To keep up with the changes, professionals are upskilling.
Searches for “upskill” have increased 564% in the last five years.
When surveyed, 71% of event planning professionals said they wanted to learn to develop their skills in designing live experiences in post-COVID-19 physical environments with more stringent hygiene standards.
The need for event professionals to adapt their skills will likely continue through 2021.
6. Emphasis on Transformational Experiences
The total disruption of the event industry in 2020 called into question the purpose of events in society as a whole.
“The pandemic has introduced a new concept to our thought-matrix: Is this essential? In other words, is it worth it?” Says Teeg Stouffer, Co-founder of the American Association of Event Professionals.
As 68% of marketers believe it’s harder to provide networking opportunities in the virtual world, the unique value proposition of events are now the people you meet, and the things you are able to experience.
In a February 2021 survey of event planners, 66% said they needed to learn to design digital event experiences to prepare for professional success in the future.
Howard Givner says that “2021 will be the year of user experience.”
Events were already shifting away from a focus on content to experience.
At their 2020 virtual conference, Cisco capped off the event with concerts from Fall Out Boy and The Chainsmokers. Since they performed virtually, the latter were able to give attendees a full tour of their studio space.
During Bizzabo’s event industry summit the improv hip-hop group North Coast performed a set that involved audience members virtually to maximize the engaging experience.
2021 will likely see this trend a step further, as people need meaningful, transformative experiences to feel something is worth it.
Searches for “transformation economy” have grown 115% in the last year.
Corporate event industry news source Event MB asserts a new order of priorities in 2021:
- Meaningful connection
In conferences and events, the desire for a transformational experience means that content may no longer be the biggest priority.
7. Physical and Virtual Safety
Across every industry, the topic of safety will continue to be prominent through the next year, including the event sector.
39% of event planners say they will require proof of COVID vaccination to attend an event they’re planning.
Expect to continue to see pre-screening requirements, socially distances layouts, protective personal equipment, specialized cleaning crews, and advanced air-filtration systems at events in the coming year.
Though virtual events bypass these health risks, they present new risks in cybersecurity. The FBI reported a 300% increase in cybercrimes since 2020.
Search interest in “cybersecurity” has increased 179% in the last 5 years.
How will we see events respond to this need for increased online security?
Industry experts recommend adding two-factor authentication, using a VPN, and using a password manager among others.
8. Data Collection Before and During Events
Big data can help event planners meet the rapidly changing consumer expectations.
Chris Cavanaugh, CFO at Freeman, a leading brand experience company, says that for events to survive “data will be the key to helping us stay a step ahead of [the customer’s] wants, needs, and intentions. And if we fail to harness data to understand them, someone else will take our audience from us.”
In a similar way tracking RFID badges works in a real environment, in a virtual event, tracking clicks, how long a user remains in a presentation, and even who they interact with can provide companies valuable insights into who their target demographic is and what they want.
One major driving force behind data collection is the struggle for online engagement.
After a year of living virtually, many are experiencing “zoom fatigue,” or mental exhaustion felt after hours of virtual communication.
In just the last year alone, search interest in “zoom fatigue” has increased 4200%.
Currently, research indicates that event attendees are engaged for only 53% of virtual events.
The industry knows that an entirely virtual event is not ideal – yet it is likely a long way off from finding the right alternative to in-person events. Data collection will be the main tool to bridge the gap between where events are, and where they should be.
9. Investments in Event Tech
40% of event planners as of February 2021 are unsatisfied with the tech options available to them.
It’s been said that the pandemic condensed years worth of change into months. The result is that technology is lagging far behind the demand – but it’s going to catch up.
This is something that investors are well aware of.
Across all sectors, startups raised $36.5 billion in funding in the third quarter, which is 30% more than last year.
While many businesses struggled during the pandemic, there’s a short list that thrived and are highly sought by investors.
Event tech is on that list.
Startups in the event space have been making headlines for their huge valuations. Hopin raised a whopping $125 million in 2020 and went on to be valued at $5.65 this year. This is in part due to its meteoric rise in users: The platform began with 1,800 users and rose to 80,000 in one year.
Searches for “Hopin” have increased 300% in the last two years.
Event networking app, Grip raised $13 billion in February, and video startup Touchcast raised $55 million. Welcome transitioned from a restaurant software to a virtual events platform and secured $6 million. Wave, a virtual concert company raised $30 million.
That event tech will likely continue to thrive as the larger COVID tech boom continues through 2021.
The pandemic necessitated rapid changes in the event industry, which is finding footing again by creating new value virtually.
Event tech will likely continue to proliferate in 2021 and beyond. And whether they happen online, offline or in a hybrid model, events that remain flexible, prioritize safety and emphasize meaning will likely become the norm.