The Delta Variant & Events: What You Need to Know
The second half of 2021 has been a period marked by uncertainty for event organizers everywhere. As the Covid-19 Delta variant quickly makes its way across the US and infection numbers rise week over week, more and more in-person events are in danger of being cancelled or postponed indefinitely. From conferences to concerts, parades, and conventions, happenings both big and small all over the country are feeling pressured to make difficult choices, and soon.
So what does this mean for the event industry as a whole and how are state, company, and event leaders managing these risk factors? Let’s explore some of the top headlines in the news today regarding the link between the Delta variant and the future of in-person and virtual events.
Large Scale Cancellations are Expected
A wave of cancellations is poised to hit the event industry hard, with many organizers already cancelling their in-person events slated to occur between now and 2022. From individual organizers to entire state economies, the losses in revenue are expected to be substantial across the board. As reported by ABC News, “the Georgia Department of Economic Development said the state's tourism industry was devastated by COVID-19, leaving travel-generated state and local tax revenues down by more than $640 million over the course of the pandemic.” Other states with vaccination rates under 50% have also had to cancel multiple staple events, costing local economies an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars.
Annual events such as the New York International Auto Show, New Orleans Jazz Fest, and NRA Annual Meeting have been some of the most recent to announce the halting of their planned events, citing heightened concerns for safety amid the sharp spike in Covid-19 cases at their event locations and dwindling sign up numbers as potential attendees, sponsors, and presenters begin to pull out as well.
Optimism is Low & Event Stress is High for Organizers
How have organizers coped with the whiplash of event planning this season? PCMA launched a periodic Covid-19 Recovery Dashboard survey and sent it to 600 active members in the event industry to monitor their changes in attitude over the past few months. When asked how they were feeling in mid-August 2021, the most-popular response was “anxious about the future” (selected by 47% of planners and 42% of suppliers), when only one in five planners and suppliers reported feeling that way back in June 2021. The percentage of respondents claiming to be hopeful about the future also dropped by more than half for both respondent groups, from 69% to 27% for suppliers and from 64% to 31% for planners.
“After nearly 18 months of riding the COVID rollercoaster, more than one-third of planners and suppliers were gritting their teeth, saying they were doing their best to get by,” PCMA states.
Recommended Safety Measures Affect Attendance
While the federal government has not required all citizens to get a COVID-19 vaccine, individual cities and businesses have, including event organizers who make disclosing their vaccination status mandatory for attendees. For instance, New York will require proof of vaccination for all indoor activities (including performances) as of September. While many event organizers are following suit, either by requiring proof of vaccination to allow entry into their events or enforcing mask mandates beyond what is required in their particular states, not all are doing so for fear that it will adversely affect attendance.
In fact, less than 30% of suppliers and planners self-reported that they plan to make proof of vaccination a requirement to attend in-person events, and even fewer indicated that they will need proof of vaccination, despite the higher rates of transmission of the Covid-19 virus among unvaccinated people.
This also holds true for mask enforcement. Even while the CDC and public health officials recently re-recommended mask-wearing for both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals within high-transmission areas or indoor gatherings, most event organizers are still hesitant to enforce this safety measure at their own indoor events due to its polarizing effects.
Virtual & Hybrid Options are on the Rise
While 2 out of 5 planners are taking a “wait and see approach” with their in-person events, over half of all PCMA surveyed planners claimed to be turning their attention to digital event experiences as viable ways to engage stakeholders while keeping attendees safe, either as a back-up plan, a part of a hybrid option, or as an alternative to in-person events altogether.
This trend was echoed by Laurea De Campo, Executive Producer for Masaya when she told BizBash, “I'm advising all organizations planning on hosting a live or larger event to have an all-virtual backup plan that can be switched to at the point that makes sense. All in-person events should have a virtual plan that is being produced alongside the in-person event, and everyone should be aligned on what a switch to virtual will mean for the organization—ramifications for financials, partners, sponsors, staff and vendors.”
In conclusion, there seems to be no clear answer yet regarding how long event-uncertainty will take center stage during the course of the pandemic. However, if event organizers want their next conference, live event, or gathering to go off without a hitch and successfully navigate the ebbs and flows of the current planning landscape, now's the time to invest in virtual options (like Brazen) to safeguard them from the risks and usher in a new standard for event agility and adaptability.
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