Vaccination requirements are starting to take a back seat as the outlook for in-person events reaches its highest level since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is despite the continuing spread of the Omicron variant as the U.S. passes a grim milestone of 1 million killed by the virus.
Event vaccination requirements are on the wane even as the Omicron variant continues to rise throughout the U.S. this spring and the U.S. brings the pandemic death count to over 1 million.
According to a recent survey of 989 event organizers conducted by AV and production firm Encore, vaccination requirements are dropping as optimism about events reaches its highest level since the pandemic began, with expectations for fully in-person events rising each quarter of 2022, from 42% in Q2, to 49% in Q3 and 54% in Q4. Another quarter saying they’re going hybrid, a percentage that stays steady throughout the remainder of the year. Almost half, 41%, say they expect to see their meeting spend to match or exceed 2019 levels this year, with another 42% saying they think it’ll be back up to full speed in 2023. About half expect to hold their in-person events at hotels, while another 14% are looking to meet at convention centers this year.
However, only 32% of those who plan to hold either full in-person or hybrid events say they plan to include vaccine requirements for in-person attendees, while another 29% say they will recommend attendees be vaccinated and 8% say they will ask about vaccination status. Almost a third say they plan to sidestep the vaccine-requirements issue entirely. When Encore conducted a similar survey this winter, almost half, 48%, said they planned to require proof of COVID vaccination for their upcoming events.
Vaccination Requirements Drop, But
Health and Safety Concerns Still Top of Mind
That’s not to say that health and safety is no longer a key concern — 31% still put it at the top of the list for their in-person events, though that is also down from the 45% who said the same in the winter survey. Instead, concerns are increasing over the time needed to plan in-person events and the rising costs of doing business, which jumped from 15% to 24% and 10% to 15%, respectively. When asked which areas have the greatest impact on their comfort level when planning hybrid events, the need for integrated technology rose from 18% to 21%, while the time needed for planning dropped a couple of points to 20%, and health and safety concerns dove nine percentage points to just 13%.
In fact, while event planners say they expect challenges due to in-person attendance and safety protocols to continue to wane for hybrid events, the costs of the technology needed to engage remote attendees has now risen to the top of the list of concerns, the survey found. The second biggest challenge is finding ways to effectively engage both in-person and remote attendees, followed by planning two separate experiences for in-person and virtual attendees.
Despite the challenges, respondents were fairly bullish on hybrid events, citing expectations that in-person audiences will likely be smaller than in the past, the ability to better engage attendees and reach a larger remote audience using a hybrid format, and options to include more networking, personalization and advanced content delivery options.