Results from a recently released PULSE survey by the Northstar Group confirm what many of us are feeling — that we are again experiencing a challenging and transformative time in the event industry. Many event professionals are looking ahead to 2022 at this point, but is there alignment between what is being planned and what attendees are expecting? The results of this survey actually seem to imply a disconnect.

Organizers that chose to proceed with planning in-person events this fall have had to deal with lower registrations than anticipated, travel restrictions, and decreased flexibility with supplier contracts. In the past two months, two-thirds of event organizers have rescheduled or canceled an event, a number that’s doubled since Northstar’s last survey in July. The survey also cites rising fears from our industry about contagion. This fear is in fact noted as the largest concern, yet event planners remain hesitant on how to best address this with in-person attendees.

While event professionals long for the day that in-person events return without limitations, event attendees seem to have a different preference. Over 30% of attendees surveyed say they would now prefer to attend an event virtually in a post-pandemic world, paving the way for a rise in hybrid events in 2022.

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Many organizations have already adopted hybrid event strategies. Others are struggling with hybrid event challenges like choosing the right technology, facilitating engagement, and the higher cost of running two events in one. These factors are driving some companies to rethink their event approach and are considering other options such as hosting two separate events, one in-person and the other virtual, to reach their audience. EIther way, it appears that virtual events will remain part of the event strategy in the foreseeable future for over two-thirds of organizations surveyed by Northstar.

Where the disconnect between event organizers and attendees is most noticeable is around COVID protocols for in-person events. Over 70% of future event attendees expect there to be a vaccine mandate and/or pre-event COVID testing requirement prior to attending the event, while less than half of event organizers surveyed would even require masks to be worn indoors. In addition, organizers plan to defer to local regulations for determining how to proceed with protocols, rather than setting their own policy or proactively committing to the precautions that attendees would expect and prefer. In-person event registrations will tell the rest of this story, as attendees and organizations try to come to some sort of agreement on safety protocols.

Buckle up, folks. It’s looking like 2022 will be another transformative and dynamic year for the event industry. If the past two years have taught us anything, flexibility is the name of the game, and that goes for event professionals as well as attendees and sponsors. Our industry is a community, filled with resilient professionals who know how to rise to a challenge. Whatever is coming next, we’ll be ready to handle it.