That the global and United Kingdom events, exhibitions and planning industry took a massive knock since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic is the proverbial British understatement.
The worldwide events industry was valued at $1,135.4 billion in 2019. But the live events industry lost $30 billion in 2020 alone. And that’s just the music and concert sector for starters. The conference, exhibition, trade show, outdoor festival and business meetings sectors experienced similar losses. Then there are the associated sectors such as airline, travel, hospitality and food and beverage industries ̶ all of which employ a lot of people.
225 million jobs were lost worldwide in 2020 due to Covid. That’s a lot of livelihoods.
But there are signs of recovery for the events and planning industry, although analysts are forecasting it will be steady but slow.
Let’s start by looking at the startling revenue numbers for the pre-Covid events industry before we move onto the losses and on a more positive note ̶ the signs of recovery.
15 Startling Events & Planning Stats
- £42.3 billion is what the UK events industry was worth in 2019
- 570 000 full-time-equivalent jobs were created by the UK events industry in 2019
- £66 000 was spent by event attendees annually in registration fees in 2019
- 35% of the UK visitor economy is accounted for by the events industry
- £3.5 billion was the turnover of the top 10 UK event agencies
- £66 000 was the average budget per event in 2015
- The UK has 10 000 event venues
- London is the #1 city in terms of meetings and events activities
- 85 million event attendees visited the UK in 2019
- 13 million business events and meetings were held annually pre-Covid
- 7 000 major outdoor events were held each year
- £19.2 billion was the exhibition and trade fair sector’s worth in 2015
- £2.3 billion is spent by 10.4 million music festival and concertgoers
- British music events were attended by a staggering 27.7 billion people
- £250 was spent by 15% of UK festival-goers in 2019.
Having read this list, just imagine what happened when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. With the resulting lockdowns, social distance restrictions and travel bans, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to imagine the devastating effects on revenues on the events and planning industry.
The Business Visits & Events Partnership (BVEP), the umbrella body and advocacy group representing the UK events sector, published its Shape of Events Report in September 2021.
The report revealed that overall event activity was down by 95% across the UK from September 2020-September 2021. It is estimated that the UK events industry lost a staggering £57 billion of value from the pre-pandemic level of £70 billion.
17% of event and exhibition businesses permanently ceased trading during 2020 and some 126 000 jobs were lost during the same period.
Worldwide Event Industry Trends
Statistics show that conferences were the most popular type of event in the events and planning industry, with 62% of organisers planning them before the pandemic.
The corporate events category was the second most popular type of event, with 61.2% of organisers planning them. This is attributed to the rise in the number of corporate companies and the frequency of events they put together. Additionally, corporate events involve a lot of interaction between the speakers and audience, attracting many attendees.
In third place were workshops, with 46.7% of organisers planning them.
In 2019, the events industry was valued at $1,135.4 billion and was expected to reach $1,552.9 billion by 2028, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.2%.
The music concert event category was predicted to experience the most significant growth with a CAGR of 13.1%.
The Pandemic’s Impact On The Global Events Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic was catastrophic for the events industry as a whole.
A survey conducted by Meeting Professional International (MPI) and Event MB found the following:
- 96% of event organisers experienced cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- 51% of event planners and 73% of suppliers expected the pandemic to have a negative economic impact on their businesses in the next 12 months
- 21% of event professionals expected the COVID-19 pandemic to have a negative financial impact on their businesses in the next 24 months
- 15% of event professionals felt that the travel ban would affect their businesses
- 40% of event professionals were concerned about their future job security due to the pandemic.
But there is a little light at the end of the tunnel. So, let’s move on to a little about how some even industry sectors coped during the pandemic and the signs of recovery.
Signs Of Recovery
The airline industry relied on domestic flights during hard lockdowns but suffered huge losses in the long-haul intercontinental flight sector. This was especially the case in larger countries such as the US, China and India. As airspace is opening up between the UK and the US, together with European flight paths, analysts are predicting an upward curve for the airline industry, albeit a gradual one.
As travel is opening up, the spin-offs for associated industries such as hospitality, tourism, food and beverages ̶ all are set to start a slow recovery as we can undertake weekends away, day trips and overnighters.
On the live events side, the US concert ticket and bookings giant Live Nation reported last month that 35 million fans had attended concerts in 2021 and average per-fan revenue was up double digits as against 2019 results.
Some trend forecasters have predicted a stellar recovery for live events as early as mid-2022 while others disagree arguing that the actual financial responsibilities of organising a conference or event of 5 000 is enormous. The detractor also doubted that businesses would have the disposable income to send employees across oceans to business meetings.
Emerging trends include the need for event planners and organisers to have a clear sense of place. So much is available online instantly that many event attendees are favouring events that include or allow for exploring surroundings including adventure and outdoor exploration. Engineer the unexpected could be the next catchphrase for event strategists.
Creating a work/life balance is also seen as very important. The notion of wellness has been embraced globally. Think yoga or mediation classes after your last break-away session, tasting locally produced honey or even a 5 km jog around a local lake.
The pandemic has highlighted the economic role played by events in broader society which drives investment in infrastructure and supports a huge network of associated sectors that feed the industry. Government and business are sitting up and taking notice, particularly those in the Asian-Pacific region.
But will face-to-face (F2F) events be a thing of the past or will they trickle back slowly as vaccine science gets on top of mutating coronaviruses? No one knows for sure and opinions are still fairly polarised on the matter.
Change Is Coming
But the British Shape of Events report also described how the pandemic has also been a catalyst for change and innovation across the entire events sector.
While the industry has been far more engaged with the government during this period, the report said there is still a need for greater, deeper, and longer-term industry representation.
While the UK government has recognised the broader benefits of hosting and staging conferences and associated business and trade events, there are the intellectual capital spin-off to consider too.
These include the sharing of research findings, knowledge transfer, professional development, networking and relationship building, and the attraction of inward investment opportunities.
As events play a vital role in professional development, these benefits are often intangible and should not be viewed as mere numbers. Take into account team building and performance improvement, community enrichment, charitable donations, celebrations, personal enjoyment and fulfilment, and a wide range of other benefits for individuals, communities and businesses that events impart.
Event planners are feeling more hopeful for the future, an industry membership survey reported in February 2022. Some 56 % of event planners described themselves as hopeful in February compared to 49 % in December 2021 and 58 % of suppliers expressed optimism in the survey, up 15 percentage points above those of December 2021. Planners and allied suppliers are making more deliberate plans and have firmer expectations about upcoming in-person and hybrid events.
Digital meetings and Zoom cannot compete with the benefits of face time with people but those annoying buffering delays and sound issues may not be a thing of the past this year.
But technology will continue to develop, F2F may become more acceptable as medicine continually evolves.
One thing is a certainty as we leave the first quarter of 2022, there will be a continued focus on health and safety at F2F events in the foreseeable future.
Let’s face it, events will continue to play a major role in creating prosperous communities, whether F2F or hybrid.