Future of in-person events: Marketers likely to return in 2023
Most marketers are optimistic they will be back attending in-person events, according to MarTech's Event Participation Index.
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:
- “Given climate change, travel challenges and increased viruses I think events should have online virtual opportunities that are both synchronous and asynchronous and facilitate in-person gatherings in the locale where people are. For example you have attendees from Chicago, London, and Philly. Create small, intimate networking events in each city so that attendees can go in their backyard while also attending the conference sessions that could be streamed from anywhere.”
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:
- “Expensive air travel and brutal travel experiences make me not want to recommend in-person events.”
Another respondent told us:
- “If event attendance is down, I don’t think it’ll be due to COVID. I’ve been to concerts, ball games, and other crowded events. People seem to be back living their lives.”
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.
- “Seeing how accessible events can be online has made it more difficult to justify spending money and time away from family on travel for in-person events. While it’s true that networking might be a missing component in the online space, networking isn’t always a strong enough justification to attend in person.”
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.”