Value of face-to-face meetings ‘irreplaceable’, says ICCA survey

The desire to get back to face-to-face meetings has intensified among association professionals, a recent ICCA survey revealed.

ICCA’s most recent instalment of the Association Meeting Needs survey, conducted previously in May and September 2020, found that 84 per cent out of 120 respondents agreed that virtual meetings have networking limitations and that the value of networking at in-person events is matchless.

Of those surveyed, 70 per cent said the opportunities to meet new people and make new contacts at face-to-face events can’t be replicated in virtual meetings.

“When comparing the results from the 2020 survey, it is clear that the general sentiment about the need for meeting face-to-face has not only remained by intensified,” the ICCA report stated.

“The camaraderie apparent in face-to-face meetings does not exist at the same level when collaborating digitally or remotely.”

Factors such as enjoying the host destination (41 per cent) and feeling a sense of community (66 per cent) also play a part in the desire to return to in-person events.

While delegate sentiment remains strong to meet in-person again, factors including travel restrictions (20 per cent) mean delegates are unable to get to a destination. Other respondents indicated they wouldn’t travel or attend meetings until a vaccine was available (24 per cent) and stringent safety measures were in place (16 per cent).

Despite a desire to meet face-to-face again, 56 per cent of respondents said they would be adopting the virtual format for their largest planned meeting in 2021, while only 17 per cent said they would adopt a hybrid format with one destination hub.

Just 2 per cent said their largest meeting would be hybrid format with multiple destination hubs in multiple countries and 6 per cent said they would postpone their largest meetings until 2022.

However, only 1 per cent said they would cancel their largest meeting in 2021.

The face-to-face format is looking more favourable for smaller meetings with 49 per cent of respondents planning an in-person meeting for 50 people or more this year.

However, the current focus on virtual events reflects the growing need for high-quality virtual event production support with 38 per cent of respondents investing in professional production for future digital events, compared with only 8.4 per cent who were polled in May 2020.

When in-person events resume, 26 per cent of association professionals polled said they will be looking for transparency and flexibility in requests for proposals (RFPs) from suppliers. Cancellation options and force majeure clauses will become more prominent in contracts.

Association professionals will also be looking for support in virtual event production from professional conference organisers in the future, with 40 per cent indicating this was an area where they needed assistance in.

In summary, flexible contract conditions, Covid-19 related safety protocols and integration of technology to support hybrid and online events were the top three requirements associations will be seeking from meeting suppliers in the future.

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