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15 Oct 2020

Around The World in 80 Minutes

Around The World in 80 Minutes

I have not checked but I am sure that before this pandemic struck one could probably circumvent the globe on commercial jets in less than 80 hours, let alone 80 days!

That seems a distant memory now, as our world generally - but in events particularly - is almost paralysed by travel restrictions amongst other things.

As the International Group of the AEO, that fact is perhaps as clear to us as any.

Of course, none of us needed to be reminded that these are tough times for all of us. In events, we seem to be taking knock after knock as each bit of new light seems to be a false dawn.

We think we can see an end and then it is snatched away from us.


The AEO International Group, like so many, has tried to continue to support and meet, albeit virtually and without travel, over these tough times.

Most recently we brought together - again - a panel of key leaders from around the event world to discuss the latest updates.

In just over an hour as we sought to understand where we all are and what could be next.

Our first stop was with Mary Larkin talking about the U.S. - and as expected – the restrictions on venue capacity have caused cancellations.

While some smaller events are running, the majority of those scheduled have been pushed back to at least Q2 of 2021 with many reviewing the need to move to Q3.

Darren Johnson discussed the variation in the events sector across Europe. At the current time, the UK is incredibly uncertain.

The All Secure Expo, and other pilots were in place to convince government officials that the sector was safe enough to run but due to new government guidelines this hasn’t happened.

It is thought to be due to the impact on local infrastructure – with a surge of people travelling, staying in hotels and using local hospitality being a cause for concern.

With World Travel Market making the switch to virtual, it now seems unlikely that anything will run in the UK this year. This, paired with the government’s unpredictable management of COVID-19, means that customer confidence is being knocked, causing more concern for the events sector, and unrest amongst the AEO members.

However, in the rest of Europe, some events are starting to open back up, with smaller events opening across France and Spain.

Whilst events in Germany are unlikely to run in Q4, The National Caravan Show in Dusseldorf recently ran as a domestic show, and welcomed over 100,000 visitors – a massive achievement to reach numbers that high when people are fearful in this climate, and a positive indicator that there is still a desire for people to meet.


Michael Duck, our representative for Asia, noted that China is now running large scale domestic shows, but these will be closed to international visitors throughout Q4 and into Q1.

Whilst smaller flights have started to depart for the UK, the current quarantine restrictions mean that if you were to visit a show in China from the UK, it would require at least four weeks in quarantine! This is completely unviable, especially when compared to being able to attend a virtual event from the comfort of your own home

This is a stark and cautious comparison to Hong Kong, whose measures are more severe,  only recently allowing up to four people to meet in public.  The beaches across Hong Kong remain closed, and there is a general sense of anxiety amongst the population who remember SARS. At present, only some small B2C shows are running, with no B2B shows at all.

The panel went on to discuss maintaining customer confidence and how to drive consistent engagement.

Virtual events and the pivot to digital are being explored by the majority of AEO members to stay relevant within their markets - and we see this on a global scale - but how can you ensure that adequate value can be added to such events?

Reed noted that successfully commercialising your event is possible when real value is identified by your audience.

Furthermore, if you have a strong NPS for a live show, then the likelihood is that you will achieve a good buy-in from your audience as you make the switch to digital, as people are keen to meet, in any capacity. It’s worth noting that this sentiment is heavily dependent on the sector.

I agreed with this concept but aligned with the general consensus, that virtual will never completely replace face-to-face.  

The events sector is all about the people involved and the community spirit - something which is difficult to replicate on screens. However, it has forced our community to be less complacent and work with our customers differently, engaging with them 365.

For that reason, it was viewed that digital will form part of business strategies going forward, revealing exciting new opportunities for bringing new skills into the market place.

But how will we get back to events as we know them? Or will we have to accept that change is inevitable – and is that such a bad thing?

Customer engagement being at the core of business is having knock-on effects internally, with teams working together more closely, and better than ever to help understand their audience. Higher customer engagement is a positive to come out of COVID-19, and it’s increasing the likelihood of repeat contracts in the coming years.

Could it be that rapid testing is the solution? Many believe that this is the key to enable events to run safely again and as soon as possible. The addition of a ‘COVID safe’ certificate or passport is urgently needed to provide customers and exhibitors with confidence that it is safe to return.


Final thoughts

As always it was a privilege to be joined by such esteemed peers from the industry to hear about the challenges that each region faces.

As events are picking up around the world, audiences are keen to see a return of live events.

Whilst digital events will play a big role in the future, businesses need to identify skills gaps within their teams to adapt to the new demand.

The UK and US have a long way to go before events can reopen, and should look towards China and Germany and follow by example – something we hope to capture in this year’s Global Event Study.

The Global Events Study Q1 &Q2 statistics snapshot is now available.

This edition of the Global Events Study begins a new methodology as we move across to reviewing the industry’s global activity on a quarterly basis. In the interest of continuity, this edition, which ran in September 2020, covered activity for the full year of 2019 plus the first two quarters of 2020. More in-depth year-on-year analysis will take place annually.