With conferences traditionally bringing large groups of delegates together from international locations, exactly what people have had to avoid with the COVID-19 pandemic, sectors have been hugely disrupted in 2020. However, with the imminent easing of lockdown and the successful rollout of the vaccine, this article explores how conferences will be able to continue in 2021.

PREDICTIONS FOR EVENTS IN 2021

As it stands currently, 21st June is the date everyone is waiting for. This is when the UK government has announced that all current restrictions will ease and things will return to ‘normality’ or close to, assuming that the reviews before then are acceptable and the virus remains controlled. However, on 17th May at the earliest, we could see restrictions lifted enough to hold certain events and conferences. Outdoor events can open for up to 4,000 people or 50% of the venue capacity, whichever is smaller. Indoor events can open for up to 1,000 people or 50% capacity, again whichever is smaller.

However, just because government guidelines may allow a conference to go ahead, it does not mean everyone will feel confident to attend in-person events in 2021. Equally, businesses affected negatively by the pandemic, may not have the budget to send employees to these events. As a consequence, the demand for conferences this year may be negatively affected and alternative solutions may need to be found to ensure the sector remains buoyant.

Here’s a look at what we predict conferences may look like this year.

Hybrid Events

If delegates who perhaps are yet to receive the vaccine are anxious about attending conferences in 2021, virtual conferencing facilities like Zoom or Skype can be used to reach a large audience without requiring any travel or face-to-face interaction.

An alternative solution is a hybrid event where a reduced number of delegates attend the actual conference to ensure social distancing is maintained and a lower number of in-person attendees. Then, the event is live-streamed for people who can’t make the conference in person due to travel restrictions or for health concerns, who can tune in from home. The prices charged can then depend on physical or virtual attendance.

Improved Facilities

When organising the conference, organisers will need to plan and put in place various safety measures to try and eliminate the risk of the COVID-19 being transmitted between delegates. These could include:

  • Installing hand sanitiser stations at entrances and exits
  • Introducing a one-way system
  • Ensuring delegates stay two meters apart
  • Mandatory temperature checks upon arrival
  • Mandatory face masks
  • Regular cleaning practised

Putting safety measures into place and communicating with attendees around what is in place to ensure their safety will mean more people feel comfortable attending.

Larger Venues

Social distancing regulations dictate the need for more space, to ensure that people aren’t coming into close contact. Moving conferences to larger corporate venues will mean they can still go ahead as delegates will be able to stay socially distant and there will be adequate space between exhibition booths.

Networking

Networking opportunities are a key attraction of face-to-face events. To avoid delegates coming into contact with each other, it is wise to establish how delegates should greet each other. Providing guidance around this to delegates ahead of the conference and including regular reminders throughout the conference, will help reduce the risk of transmission. Alternatively, a virtual introduction could be arranged between delegates to ensure these valuable networking opportunities can continue.

Last-minute Bookings

People may be tempted to wait to register for events and book the relevant travel until the last possible moment, in case there are changes to the current UK government guidelines. Having flexible cancellation policies should restrictions not have eased or quarantining be in place will give delegates the confidence to book, knowing they will be able to receive a refund if required. This flexibility will also allow anyone who may be feeling unwell or who has to self isolate, the ability to cancel if necessary.

Takeaways

This year is going to be a trying time and we are expecting to see a better second half of the year as confidence grows, vaccine numbers increase, and restrictions are lifted. Therefore, the challenge for the conferencing sector is to continue to create meaningful content and networking opportunities in a way that delegates feel is still valuable but also remain safe.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Auria Heanley is co-founder of Oriel Partners, a boutique PA and administrative recruitment consultancy based in Central London. She is extremely passionate about providing the highest quality of service to both clients and candidates. Oriel Partners’ clients range from global multinationals to small boutique firms, all requiring the same personal service and high calibre support.