Reed Exhibitions reveals how COVID-19 has changed the event industry

While the industry has certainly had a shake-up, it's not all bad news.

COVID-19 has accelerated the industry’s acceptance of digital tools, but has not diminished the value of in-person events, according to newly published insights by Reed Exhibitions.

The findings are revealed in a new whitepaper, COVID-19 and How it’s Changing the Event Industry, which highlights findings from Reed’s COVID-19 Customer Needs and Mindset Barometer.

The survey involves 2,863 exhibitors and 9,270 attendees across 201 events and 17 regions, including Australia, China, Germany, Italy, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, UK, USA and more.

“When the scale of the global pandemic started to become clear in early February, there was little in the way of formal, comparable data to help the events industry understand its immediate and longer term impact on our customers, our events and our global marketplace” said global head of digital customer insights Layla Northern.

“Started in June 2020, this ongoing, regular research is not only helping us at Reed Exhibitions to evolve our technology and services in response to COVID-19 and changing customer needs; it also offers our industry valuable insights into how we might reshape our events to our customers’ advantage, and fuel long-term profitability and growth in the future.”

Digital adoption

The survey findings revealed COVID-19 is accelerating changes in consumer behaviour, with 84 per cent of visitors and exhibitors having tried at least one new digital service since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acceptance and willingness to adopt digital tools has also increased over this time. On average, attendees had tried 3.3 new digital services in June, rising to 3.5 by September. Exhibitor adoption increased from 3.2 to 3.6 respectively.

Visitor sentiment around digital events is also increasingly positive, with 59 per cent of visitors now saying they would be likely to sign up to attend an online trade event, up from 57 per cent in June. The percentage who believe they can still carry out the majority of their event objectives online is also increasing, up from 52 per cent to 57 per cent.

However, the survey revealed exhibitors are more cautious about online tools, with 43 per cent saying they believe they can still carry out the majority of their event objectives online.

In-person events

Despite the increased adoption of online tools, COVID-19 has not diminished the value of in-person events for participants who are committed to returning as soon as restrictions are lifted. Reed found the importance of events has remained consistent for both exhibitors and visitors throughout the survey period.

Health and safety was a key concern for respondents, therefore the expectation of COVID-19 precautions, including social distancing, masks, disinfectant and contactless technology, is now regarded as standard practice.

Currently, three-quarters of visitors feel either positive or neutral about returning to events, compared to 56 per cent of exhibitors.

Exhibitors say they will spend less while the pandemic continues to unfold and prior to a vaccine roll out, however around two-thirds of exhibitors expect to return to normal levels (or spend more) once a vaccine is deployed.

Read the full white paper here.

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