Increase in online event popularity among visitors, but desire for live still strong, says research

Newly published insights from Reed Exhibitions’ Covid-19 Customer Needs and Mindset Barometer has revealed that 84% of visitors and exhibitors have tried at least one new digital service since the lockdown was introduced in March 2020.

According to research in Reed’s white paper, Covid-19 and How it’s Changing the Event Industry, visitors on average had tried 3.3 new digital services in June, rising to 3.5 by September. Exhibitor adoption increased from 3.2 to 3.6 respectively.

The white paper also suggests that consumer willingness to adopt digital is reflected in attitudes towards online events. The number of visitors who say they would like to carry out one or more event activities digitally while they are unable or unwilling to attend in person is significant, and has increased consistently, from 91% in June to 94% in September.

More than 3,000 exhibitors and 9,000 attendees across 201 events were surveyed, and responses suggest there is a difference in opinion on the effectiveness of online event engagement. This is evidenced in that 59% of visitors now say they would be likely to sign up to attend an online trade event, up from 57% in June. The percentage who believe that they can still carry out the majority of their event objectives online is also increasing, up from 52% to 57%.

However, exhibitors are more cautious about online tools than visitors, with 43% saying that they believe they can still carry out the majority of their event objectives online. Verbatim responses reveal that one of their key concerns is that attendees will not engage in digital events, a belief not borne out by attendee data, the white paper suggests.

The increase in attendee confidence in online activity is pointed at familiarity and more concentrated exposure.

The research does indicate that Covid-19 has not diminished the value of in-person events for participants who are committed to returning as soon as restrictions are lifted. Throughout the period of the tracking survey, the importance of events has remained consistent for both exhibitors and visitors, it is revealed. While the white paper says that exhibitors remain sure they will spend less while the pandemic continues to unfold and prior to a majority of the population being vaccinated, around two-thirds of exhibitors expect to return to normal levels (or spend more) once inoculation is mainstream.

Customers are increasingly open to the idea of engaging with digital alongside in-person events as they return. 65% of visitors and 57% of exhibitors believe digital will continue to work for events after Covid-19.

Reflecting on the white paper, Layla Northern, global head of digital customer insights said that when the scale of the global pandemic started to become clear in early February, there was little in the way of  comparable data to help the events industry understand its immediate and longer term impact on our customers, events and the global marketplace.

She said: “Started in June 2020, this ongoing, regular research is not only helping us at Reed Exhibitions to evolve our technology and services in response to COVID-19 and changing customer needs; it also offers our industry valuable insights into how we might reshape our events to our customers’ advantage, and fuel long-term profitability and growth in the future.”

The white paper can be downloaded here.