American Express: Hybrid Gatherings Pave the Return to In-Person Meetings & Events

Following a year of uncertainty, the "2021 Global Meetings and Events Forecast" from American Express Meetings & Events, a division of American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), found that businesses have quickly adapted meetings and events programs to keep customers, prospects and employees engaged.

Despite a steep learning curve, American Express says meeting planners have learned to implement new safety and security protocols and accelerated the use of existing technologies across virtual, hybrid and in-person formats. Web conference platforms have revealed both their benefits and limitations, as planners seek out engagement strategies to combat virtual meeting fatigue. But everything comes at a cost, American Express adds: Survey respondents indicated that 35 percent of virtual and hybrid events would require the services of a full-service agency. With the recovery of travel volumes expected to vary by geography in 2021, hybrid meetings will be a stepping stone toward meeting in-person.

Gerardo Tejado, SVP and GM for American Express Meetings & Events, said in a press statement: “The value that global organizations continue to place on meetings and events is evident in the speed with which they transitioned from in-person to virtual formats.”

He added: “The message in our Forecast is clear: Meetings have to happen. There is an appetite to get back to meeting in-person as soon as it’s safe to do so, and hybrid meetings will be the catalyst.”

Looking ahead to 2021, planners must reconcile pent-up demand for in-person events with tightening and shifting budgets. With airfares and hotel rates still somewhat in flux, there is still hesitancy around advance booking. To combat this uncertainty, suppliers are currently shifting to more lenient cancellation or change policies, often at no cost. Across the globe, planners expect small and simple meetings, taking place closer to home at local or regional destinations, to return faster than other meeting types at 21 percent globally, followed by internal meetings at 18 percent.

Asia Pacific: On the Rebound

Positive sentiment around the remainder of 2020 exists, as 16 percent of respondents said they had already resumed in-person meetings while nearly half (47 percent) expected to resume operating at least some in-person meetings and events before the end of 2020. Overall, 60 percent of respondents indicated they had in-person events booked or contracted for 2020.

Respondents in China and Hong Kong expected to see increases across the board of every type of meeting. Four in 10 meetings and events planners (43 percent) in Asia Pacific expected to see an increase in client/customer advisory board meetings, and nearly half (49 percent) anticipated there would be an increase in internal team meetings in 2021.

North America: Embracing Hybrid Formats

North American respondents estimated that almost one quarter (24 percent) of their events in 2021 would include a virtual component and would be smaller local events, with fewer than 25 attendees, requiring no air travel or hotel rooms. They expected 45 percent of virtual/hybrid meetings would be web conferences, and 27 percent of all virtual/hybrid meetings would make use of a mobile app.

The leading type of meeting in North America in 2021 is expected to be "small and simple meetings" in the U.S. and internal team meetings/training in Canada. Regionally, respondents anticipated decreases across most types of meetings; however, 36 percent expected the number of senior leadership or board meetings to stay the same.

Europe: Finding Middle Ground

Respondents expected in-person events to make up about half of their 2021 events line-up. They predicted an increase in hybrid events into 2021 and a decrease in virtual-only events, as they plan for the return of in-person events. Despite these predicted reductions and uncertainties, most respondents rated their level of optimism regarding the health of the meetings and events industry in 2021 somewhere in the middle—on a scale of one to 10, 12 percent were very optimistic (eight to 10), 72 percent were in the middle (four to seven), and only 15 percent were very discouraged (one to three).

Central and Latin America: Optimism and Opportunity

Central and South American respondents showed greatest optimism amongst the regions regarding the health of the meetings and events industry in 2021. Three-quarters of planners (76 percent), described career options available to them as meetings and events professionals as “excellent.” For overall budgets, 41 percent of respondents anticipated their organizations’ meeting spend for 2021 would increase, which was the highest of all regions surveyed.

The 2021 Forecast is based on a survey of more than 560 meetings and events professionals and interviews with 16 industry experts. The survey and interviews took place in August and September of 2020. 

Source: American Express Global Business Travel

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