Michael Doyle, VP of Customer Service, Engagez
Looking to the Future, Learning from the Past: Lessons that pre-date COVID
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill
The 9/11 Terror Attacks paralyzed air travel; business travel was slow to recover. Space for working (or co-working) was not popular at the time—leaving professionals disconnected, in new territory where phone-based connections had to supplant traditional handshake meetings.
With the internet in its growth phase, there were few options for making the types of connections needed to expand and network as executives would do at trade shows and conferences. The economic slowdown that year masked the impact on B2B commerce resulting from the halt, but marketing and sales professionals started to seek new ways in which they could build their business without face-to-face interaction.
2010: Everyone was playing “Angry Birds,” the iPod Nano was new, Prince William and Kate Middleton just got engaged, and the world was just starting to emerge from the 2008-9 global recession.
I wrote an article on the growth of virtual events amid the slowdown in global business travel. A major hit to the economy, US business travel was an estimated $240 billion, with meeting-related excursions racking up $170 billion and trade shows adding another $140 billion. “Nearly three-quarters (72%) of business travel decision makers believe reduced travel is necessary during an economic downturn,” according to Oxford Economics that year added, “…as corporate profits have fallen over the past year, companies have reacted with an array of cost-cutting measures related to travel.”
I speculated at the time that another shoe was likely to drop. The rising concern over the “inconvenient truth” of global warming, came with scientists warning climate change would bring adverse destabilizing effects—and that the more advanced nations needed to lead by example. More specifically, high-altitude carbon emissions connected to air travel were said to contribute heavily to the destruction of the ozone layer. Environmentally-conscious organizations were expected to reduce business travel, which is estimated to be between 15 and 30% of all air travel but had been declining since 9/11.
That environmental sustainability reduction in business travel never happened. In fact, it grew to over $1.4 trillion by 2018!
Of course, the 2020 global shutdown amid the COVID pandemic shuttered nearly all conferences and most non-essential meetings of any kind. By the end of 2020, business travel cratered with US airlines dropping over 70%.
According to NASA, “The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting limitations on travel and other economic sectors by countries around the globe drastically decreased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions within just a few weeks. That sudden change gave scientists an unprecedented view of results that would take regulations years to achieve.”
What have we learned? Not much. Neither that massive, real-world experiment that reduced carbon emissions nor the record business profits partially due to limits on travel and meetings have slowed the expected 2023 demand for business travel. Rather, it is expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels and exceed $1 trillion with growth rates of 4-5% thereafter.
Climate concerns continue, with further instances of warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, wildfires, and their related impacts on groundwater and weather patterns. Scientists warn of expected issues with food sources and biodiversity; populations are migrating as a result, bringing into question geopolitical stability.
The lessons from 2001, 2008, and 2020 have been progressive and enlightening. Events all but stopped in 2001. In 2008, organizations flocked to virtual events, planning to “always” have an online component/version of their event programs only to be caught again in a world without physical meetings and events in 2020.
With expansive remote work and a generally more distributed workforce, collaboration and engagement have become more important, yet harder to come by. Most agree that an online component will be a required part of important gatherings going forward, and are shaping how that will look in the near future. Some have planned hybrid gatherings, have stayed virtual altogether, or have found a point on the continuum between physical and virtual that works for their constituencies.
Building out an online experience is often given short shrift, especially as physical event costs (venue, refreshments, A/V, etc.) have risen more than 40% in most cities. Coupled with lower attendance (down 40-50%) and muted sponsorship revenue, often the resulting budget does not allow much in the way of an online experience.
Enter the modern virtual event, that presents a new level of immersive digital engagement while delivering on the above-referenced goals of travel savings, lessening climate impact, complementing the “CleanTech” movement, and meeting the needs of organizational ESG commitments.
Powered by innovative Web 3.0 technology, layering on multiple live streams, interactive voice/video/text chat, and an immersive visual experience, enterprise-grade platforms like Engagez are delivering online gatherings that mirror conventional events.
In 2022, thoughtful event organizers have found creative ways to bring their constituencies together. By planning a limited in-person audience of highest value attendees with a large virtual audience (some call it a pyramid-style hybrid) where the budget allows for a quality in-person experience and a highly engaging and complete online program. This style allows the organization to minimize environmental impact and ensure a significant ROI on the program. These types of events will likely see continued growth as we move into the projected recession over the next few years and may become more ingrained as the primal model of the events of the future.