New Zealand: Covid has ‘increased appetite for face-to-face’, report finds

COVID-19 has increased the value New Zealanders put on face to face meetings, according to new research conducted in the business events sector for promotional body Tourism New Zealand (TNZ).

The survey of 125 New Zealand-based organisations found that 97 per cent were planning to hold a business event in 2021 – up from 94 per cent of respondents to a survey conducted in May 2020.

TNZ global manager business events, Lisa Gardiner, said: “We used to take meeting in person for granted and when we weren’t able to, we realised the value of face to face. This is reflected in the increasing number of people planning to hold an event in 2021.”

The appetite for meeting is coupled with an increasingly positive attitude towards business events: 92 per cent consider in-person conferences and offsite meetings important for their organisation, up from 79 per cent of respondents in the May 2020 survey; and more than half (56%) said they appreciate the importance of face to face meetings more now than pre-Covid-19, up from 39 per cent in May.

Despite positive intentions in planning events, however, uncertainty about how the Covid-19 pandemic will evolve means that only 57 per cent of respondents are confident that their event will go ahead as planned.

And almost half (45 per cent) said that Covid-19 had affected what they look for in a destination for meetings and conferences. Those surveyed said social distancing, greater flexibility with changes and cancellations, and providing tech solutions are now more important in their decision making.

Gardiner said: “The cautious approach to meeting face to face will require our venues and suppliers to ensure they are providing a safe environment.”

Industry can play a part in driving best practice health standards and sharing the message that events are safe to attend if run properly, with adherence to New Zealand’s Events Sector Voluntary Code.

While the majority of the events planned for 2021 will be in-person, hybrid events are also in demand – though there is very little interest in fully online events.  Respondents said 65 per cent of their events planned for 2021 are in person only; 43 per cent hybrid, and only 16 per cent virtual only.

Although 82 per cent said they would consider hosting a hybrid or fully virtual conference in 2021, lack of networking opportunities was deemed the most important barrier to adopting a hybrid format, as well as hybrid events being ‘less engaging’.

Gardiner added: “While this research suggests technology is unlikely to fully replace the need for in-person conferences, our industry has room to improve to meet the growing demand for hybrid events, ensuring high-quality technical delivery and increasing engagement at multi-platform events.”

TNZ is supporting the industry in upskilling to meet this demand, funding scholarships for 10 events professionals to earn PCMA’s Digital Event Strategist Certification. The online course teaches how to design, deliver, monetise and measure effective and highly interactive online events.

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