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Future of in-person events: Marketers likely to return in 2023

Marketers are looking forward to returning to in-person events in the first half, and especially the second half, of 2023.

As far as the rest of 2022? Marketers are split down the middle.

That’s according to MarTech’s 2022 Event Participation Index.

A year ago, marketers told us they were less likely to attend upcoming in-person conferences due to fears of an Omicron wave.

Indeed, we saw an enormous surge in COVID cases at the beginning of this year, when many first-half conferences had already been planned. Although the new variants were highly infectious, they seemed less damaging.

The number of cases quickly declined and have remained fairly flat. Nevertheless, the uncertainty seemed to shut down the in-person option for about half of the roughly 200 respondents who were part of the Event Participation Index.

Fifty-three said they were “extremely unlikely” to attend a live event in what remains of 2022; 62 said they were “extremely likely” to go to an in-person event. The rest of the sample was spread unevenly between those extremes.

This year, once again, we asked marketers to rate their likelihood of returning to in-person events. We also asked how many events they have actually attended, as well as the extent to which they have a budget for attending, or exhibiting at, events.

Here are the results.

Marketers ‘extremely likely’ to attend in-person events

Things look brighter for next year. About twice as many respondents were “extremely likely” rather than “extremely unlikely” to attend in-person events in the first half of 2023.

For the second half of next year, optimism reigns, with 80 “extremely likely” to go to live events, and 40 more checking in as likely or highly likely. Only 19 were still “extremely unlikely” to jump aboard.

At the same time, many thought that a virtual element should still be included. Said one Event Participation Index respondent:

Should event organizers mandate vaccination?

A strong majority continued to believe not only that attendees should be vaccinated (and presumably, although we didn’t ask, boosted), but that event organizers should mandate vaccination.

Logically, that probably means checking evidence of vaccination, too.

More than half of our sample, 121 respondents, wanted to see vaccinations made mandatory. Although 77 said no, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re against vaccination (or unvaccinated).

Attendance levels: What is the new normal?

The return of in-person events doesn’t necessarily imply a complete return to normal.

“Attendance will be at pre-pandemic levels,” predicted one Event Participation Index respondent, and for 2022 at least that seems likely to be true.

HubSpot estimated a decline in Inbound attendance of around 10-15% compared with 2019. That said, Inbound had an extensive virtual component, so the overall audience may have been larger than past live-only editions of the conference.

It remains to be seen whether offering audiences the choice of virtual or in-person will depress live attendance. After all, viruses aren’t the only problem – there’s the expense and rampant chaos of air travel.

As one Event Participation Index respondent told us:

Another respondent told us:

Here’s what the survey sample actually did (or are doing) this year:

There was a fairly even split between those who went to zero events (77) and those who went to one or two (I went to two or three).

There was a sharp decline when it came to multiple event attendance, with only eight brave warriors experiencing ten or more in-person shows.

Marketers have budget for events

A strong majority of respondents (154) had budget to travel to at least a few events the rest of this year and into next year. A small minority (22) had the budget to attend many events.

When it came to exhibiting, 46 had the budget for at least some events, while 19 had the budget for many. Added together, that means around one-third of this sample have the costs of at least some exhibiting covered.

Of course, there’s no pleasing some people: “Do something different. I’m bored with in-person and online events.”

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