COVID-19 Won’t Just Go Away: What Now?

The event industry was turned upside down as the first wave of COVID-19 made its way across the world.

Fast forward, almost two years into the pandemic, and we might be headed in the same direction yet again. With even more uncertainty in the months ahead, a lot of association and event planners are wondering what to do now.

What's the latest COVID-19 news?

According to the New York Times active COVID-19 map and case count, the United States is seeing roughly 120,000 new cases daily. As September comes to an end, the United States has surpassed 2,000 COVID related deaths per day. The total death toll for COVID-19 has passed 700,000 in the US alone.  

To put these numbers into perspective, when COVID first broke out at its worst in late January and into early February 2020, average daily deaths reached 4,000 people a day with average new cases up to 200,000 cases per day. On January 8, 2020, there were over 300,000 new cases.

Although vaccinations have slowed down in the recent months, there has been positive ground made with roughly 64% of the country fully vaccinated and many currently in the process of getting second doses. There have been fewer people being hospitalized in recent months, and the goal of reaching herd immunity is looking promising, but the slow in full vaccinations could change that course.  

As for now, with a slow and steady rise in daily averages, the in-person event experience has a big question mark over its head looking towards the months to come. Can we return in person, and is it even safe?

How is COVID impacting the event industry?  

For starters, according to a recent PCMA poll on August 23, Only around a quarter of planners said the Delta variant has not changed their plans for their events in the upcoming months: 12 percent are moving forward with their in-person — and 14 percent are proceeding with their hybrid — events. On the other hand, 14 percent have canceled their in-person events, with 11 percent moving them to digital-only versions. The highest percentage of planners — two out of five — said that they are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Fast forward to September, as the recent “Mu” variant makes landfall, event planners are riding anxious and hopeful waves of emotion: roughly 40% of suppliers and planners are feeling anxious.  

PCMA, taking things a little further, "Doing my best to get by” is another option we’ve given respondents to describe their feelings — that shot up from 23 percent among planners in June to 38 percent in August. Keep hanging in there.”

There is a lot of discrepancy and uncertainty within the numbers. What can we do about it? Is it time to reevaluate hybrid or virtual event experiences?

Let’s face it, we all want to return to events in-person, see our colleagues face to face again instead of through a screen. But the truth is, going back in-person is complicated and sticky, and for those associations that are trying, they have to deal with the hassle of mask mandates, proof of vaccination, social distancing, capacity limits, and not to mention different regulations that can vary by location.

Betting on a full in-person return might be a greater risk, especially when the industry is currently keen on hybrid and virtual models. A Report from PCMA on Encore’s Planner Pulse Survey conducted in July 2021, “More than one-third have now either planned or executed a hybrid event (up from the results of winter and spring surveys)” and “90 percent will or may utilize a digital event strategy once in person recovers.”

If 90% of event professionals plan on utilizing digital ONCE in-person events recover, what are they doing now? The time to invest in your hybrid and digital experience is now. Don’t wait to improve your digital tools now. They are what your audience is using every day.

COVID-19 is challenging, but now is the time to innovate a digital experience for an even better hybrid return. Maybe don’t wait around to return in-person. Start considering all your digital options now.