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The ‘R’ Word… Business Travel and the Future of Events

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Michael Doyle
, VP of Customer Service, Engagez

Will it be 2008 All Over Again for Business Travel in the Next Year or Two? Changes are Happening

In 2008, for those who were not in the business world yet, or chose to keep the 2008-9 recession locked away in a dark place, let’s just say it was no pandemic but was a crisis the likes of which we had never seen before. Virtually overnight, business travel was stopped and events were canceled en masse, and event organizers and agencies scrambled to put together plans to pivot to virtual events and meetings for who knew how long. 

Although the post-pandemic pendulum swung with a massive jerk back to physical events, the pendulum is now swinging back towards virtual and hybrid. Most physical events are still well shy of their pre-pandemic attendance and revenue levels and the big flood of postponed event deposits has been worked out of their systems now.

In my opinion, the pendulum is going to keep moving more toward in-person digital programs (online events and meetings with more networking and face-to-face via video interactions) for a few reasons. I’ll jump into those shortly, but the good news is that most event and meeting pros are already fairly accomplished or have added the skills to handle a more remote attendee experience than ever before. Many organizers who did what they had to do during the pandemic period and used whatever mobile event app, registration system, event website, etc. that pivoted to a virtual event platform thanks almost entirely to zoom embeddable live stream, got the job done. Sort of…  

As we move into 2023, we are already seeing signs of what is coming at least here in Silicon Valley (a bellwether to the 2008 crisis for me) as companies first stop and close new hiring recs, rescind new offers, and start to clamp down on travel. We’re also seeing some pretty significant layoffs across the tech sector.

Is the Recession the Next Pandemic?

The 2023 or 2024 (depending on which pundit you follow) recession is shaping up to be a whopper. Hiring and travel are usually the first things that get cut when heading into and during a recession and with limited travel (often limited to critical sales opportunities only), events and meetings get hit hard. With inflation out of control and the government jacking up interest rates to try and curb it, it’s no wonder that according to The Conference Board only 7% of US consumers think a recession is unlikely (in the next 12 months). Demand destruction is fully underway with the goal of cooling off the economy and jobs.  

I previously discussed the environmental concerns around air travel and event-related waste and carbon and the growing concern, especially with younger generations in the workforce. Personally, the revelation that there is no (only 7%) plastic recycling, has had a big impact and I fear is just the tip of yet another environmental lie that is crushing our planet. Eventually, the environmental impact of meetings and events will be measured and organizations will report and manage their impact a lot more than is happening today. Some are already taking this issue very seriously and changing programs to achieve their goals and limit the impact on the environment. One to pay close attention to is Net Zero Carbon Events and though they are offering an option to attend their roadmap meeting at the physical COP27 event in Egypt, we hope you’ll attend online.

How to Prepare for Whatever Comes Up Next

Assuming travel becomes a significant challenge again, one of the better strategies we’ve seen deployed with great success is the Pyramid Model of a hybrid event. In this model,  there is a physical event that is focused on bringing together a smaller, more high-end physical audience of best clients, prospects and partners joined by a much larger remote audience that is also participating in the event live via a live-stream. With this model event organizers  still get quality but also quantity. Not to mention the economics and event experience can be a success for all.   

Having a smaller VIP experience at a physical location can stretch the budget for the physical event to allow for additional focus on the remote audience experience as well. Having a team member that can host the virtual extension during the physical event is easier as the logistics are going to be less onsite. Paying close attention to the remote audience engagement can be key to helping monetize the event either directly or indirectly. 

Monetization can be direct from the event in terms of selling tickets, sponsorships, exhibits and/or helping to close deals, which can accelerate the move of prospects through the sales funnel or engage partners to focus more on your partnership opportunities. 

If your event is self-funded and direct revenue streams are critical, the pyramid model can be your friend. Ticket sales are important, and a higher onsite ticket sale can be supported with a group, online ticket sale add-on. If people can’t or won’t travel, this can be a great way to add additional revenue to your registration sales. Depending on the event, training budgets could also be tapped to help support paid remote attendance. Onsite and remote attendees can qualify and generate certificates of completion for sessions attended. 

Exhibitors and sponsors can also benefit from the pyramid model. This model allows them to have a smaller team onsite and a remote team available to work with the online attendees. Anything you can do at the physical event, you can also do with all of the remote participants. Greet attendees, let them know what your company offers, jump into a demo or go face-to-face with a video call in a public or private meeting room. This way your exhibiting partners can maximize their results from a much larger audience. 

Indirect monetization can start before the event begins with both top of the funnel awareness and contact generation through email and social media marketing that can be especially effective with the pyramid model because as a sponsor or exhibitor, you know there is a limited ability to generate interest in participation at the physical event, but usually unlimited opportunity to promote the virtual extension offering a much higher ROI on marketing spending. As an exhibitor, you usually have a plan to maximize the onsite audience interaction but with a strategic plan to maximize the remote participants, you can potentially multiply your leads, nurture conversations, and educate your entire funnel with targeted materials and interactions for all. If you want to get the most out of your investment, change your mindset from passive to hyperactive and put all of your marketing channels to work, and treat your participation like you were going to own this opportunity and ring as much value as you can.     

Remember that it starts with the 20-80 rule!

80% of your real business impact comes from just 20% of the people you normally connect with directly or through any and all communications and marketing channels. That 20% is the target audience that you are going to try hard to get to travel to the physical event. 

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