To say it’s been a rough 12 months for the corporate events industry would be the grossest of understatements. For close to a year, large-scale, in-person events were non-existent and suddenly virtual events became all the rage. But as we’ve emerged from lockdown and sense of normalcy has returned to our lives, the desire to return to the in-person events of the past has become incredibly strong. The pendulum has swung from physical to virtual and it’s now on its way back again.
But where will the pendulum stop? Will we go back to face-to-face events and erase the last 12 months of experimenting with virtual from our memories or will the pendulum start to swing back again?
To understand this, we need to first understand what is pushing events back to the physical. And to understand this, it doesn’t hurt to look at the example of Bluesfest. Obviously, it was incredibly frustrating for both the organiser and the audience that Bluesfest was cancelled just one day before the gates opened, but a bigger question is, “Why was Bluesfest going to happen at all?”
The lead-time for large-scale events is 6 months or more (I hazard that for an event such as Bluesfest it could be closer to 12). Which means Bluesfest was scheduled during the middle of a pandemic with much of Australia dealing with rolling lockdowns. It was scheduled knowing they wouldn’t be able to get insurance in case of another outbreak. I hazard that the reason it was booked was more emotional and nostalgic than practical.
And this is why I have no doubt the pendulum will swing back again. We have a nostalgic view of physical events, the camaraderie, the rich sensory experience, the ability to shake hands and look people in the eye. But as we return to physical events, we might also be reminded that they also come with risk, are often inconvenient to attend and catered with over carbed, over sugared food.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t have physical events, I for one have no interest in attending a virtual version of Bluesfest. Rather that the pendulum will swing back again and maybe this time around we will start to think more critically about which events (or perhaps which parts of which events) should be done virtually and which should be done face-to-face. The pendulum may never stop but it will slowly gravitate towards the middle.