It will come as no great surprise that the pandemic has had a profound impact on consumers’ attitudes toward physical and digital events.A research project from global events business Reed Exhibitions, called the “COVID-19 Customer Needs and Mindset Barometer,” found that most people—65 percent of visitors and 57 percent of exhibitors—are open to a hybrid of digital and in-person events when live meetings return.

Reed Exhibition’s barometer reflects findings from nearly 3,000 exhibitors and more than 9,000 attendees across 201 events and 17 Reed Exhibitions offices. Layla Northern, global head of digital customer insights, says, “When the scale of the global pandemic started to become clear in early February, there was little in the way of formal, comparable data to help the events industry understand its immediate and longer-term impact on our customers, our events and our global marketplace. Started in June 2020, this ongoing, regular research is not only helping us at Reed Exhibitions to evolve our technology and services in response to COVID-19 and changing customer needs; it also offers our industry valuable insights into how we might reshape our events to our customers’ advantage, and fuel long-term profitability and growth in the future.”

Among its key findings, the Reed Exhibitions COVID-19 Barometer reveals that COVID-19 is accelerating changes in consumer behavior as 84 percent of visitors and exhibitors have tried at least one new digital service since the lockdown. Also, the acceptance of digital tools is increasing over time. On average, visitors had tried 3.3 new digital services in June, rising to 3.5 by September. Exhibitor adoption increased from 3.2 to 3.6, respectively.

Consumer willingness to adopt digital tools is reflected in attitudes toward online events. Reed’s research found that the number of visitors who say they would like to attend one or more event activities digitally while they are unable or unwilling to attend in person is significant, and has increased consistently, from 91 percent in June to 94 percent in September. Visitor agreement with all positive statements around digital is also increasing—59 percent of visitors now say they would be likely to sign up to attend an online trade event, up from 57 percent in June. The percentage of those who believe that they can still carry out the majority of their event objectives online is also increasing, up from 52 percent to 57 percent.

Exhibitors are more cautious about online tools than visitors. The survey found that only 43 percent believe that they can still carry out the majority of their event objectives online. Study respondents’ responses reveal that one of exhibitors’ key concerns is that attendees will not engage in digital events—a belief not borne out by attendee data. Engagement with digital activities increases with familiarity and exposure. For example, participants in travel events, which have a long tradition of using online meeting tools to arrange physical meetings, are much more comfortable with the idea of using live meeting software in a digital environment.

COVID-19 has not diminished the value of in-person events for participants who are committed to returning as soon as restrictions are lifted. Throughout the period of the tracking survey, the importance of events has remained consistent for both exhibitors and visitors. While exhibitors were sure they will spend less while the pandemic continues to unfold and prior to there being a vaccine, around two-thirds expect to return to normal levels—or spend more—once a vaccine is widely administered.

The White Paper can be downloaded here.