New research shows 1 in 2 associations running hybrid events in 2021

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With the global rollout of vaccination programs and countries opening their borders once more, in-person events are slowly making a return. And hosting a hybrid event that allows both in-person and virtual attendees to participate will make a lot of sense for associations and membership organizations moving forwards. They can reach out to new members, improve engagement with their wider communities and create all sorts of new revenue opportunities too.

But are associations READY to take on hybrid events? Or are the barriers just too big?

A new research study by event management software company, Eventsforce, shows despite the take up of hybrid events from many associations, 49% feel uncertain if the future of events is hybrid.

Conducted in June 2021, with feedback from more than 120 US and UK-based association event planners, the study looks at what impact virtual events have had on associations, their plans around hybrid and what kind of new challenges and opportunities hybrid events can bring to their post Covid-19 growth strategy.

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The Impact of Virtual Events on Associations

Of all the changes the Covid-19 pandemic has delivered to an association’s bottom line, the disruption in events is likely the most unsettling. The results of the ‘Are Associations Ready for Hybrid Events’ research study show that only 1 in 5 association event planners managed to keep things steady throughout the pandemic, with the majority (64%) citing a fall in revenue as the biggest impact on their organization.

The shift to virtual models has also had an impact on members – with 32% citing a drop in memberships but another 19% saying they attracted new members as a result of reaching out to wider audiences online. Interestingly, 11% felt that without in-person events – their costs in engaging members had gone up in the past year. Yet many also felt they were able to cut costs on things like venues, transportation and other expenses that typically go around live events.

The Rise of Hybrid Events

The research also investigated the current changing landscape in the events industry to see what proportion of associations are planning on making the move to hybrid models. And the first conclusion is that hybrid is happening with 59% of associations planning on running hybrid events in 2021-2022 – with the majority of those taking place from October this year.

Despite the uptake, however, there is also strong evidence that many associations are not willing or able to take the hybrid route. The findings show that 32% have opted out and will run a mixed portfolio of in-person and virtual-only events instead.

In terms of barriers to hybrid events, higher costs and lack of budget tops the list with 73% of association planners. Another 68% feel hybrid events are risky with no certainty of success, while 59% say they are too complex and time-consuming to manage. The findings also show that 42% aren’t making the move as they feel they don’t have the skills and experience needed to run successful hybrid events.

The Challenges of Hybrid Events

Hybrid events combine two different experiences and can be considerably more complex to execute than virtual or in-person events. The research findings show that from those making the move to hybrid, understanding how to blend the virtual and in-person experiences tops the list of problems that they are currently dealing with.

Creating programs and agendas for hybrid events was another issue with 56% of association planners, while 41% are also concerned about how they should staff both events to avoid prioritizing one audience over another. The results also show that there are also concerns around hybrid revenue models – with more than 1 in 3 struggling to decide how much to charge virtual vs. on-site attendees and a similar number having issues findings sponsors/exhibitors that want to invest in hybrid events.

Sourcing the right tech for hybrid events is also a growing problem for 20% of association planners. More and more, trends show that associations are considering using event management platforms that either integrate easily with their existing tech stack or ones that allow them to manage all their virtual and in-person data in one place.

The Opportunities of Hybrid Events

The last part of the research study was to investigate what kind of new opportunities associations planners feel hybrid events can bring to their organizations. And there seems to be consensus on all fronts that when done right, hybrid events can only be good thing. There are too many advantages to virtual events to ignore them any longer.

The findings show that 90% of association planners feel hybrid events can help them reach out to more people and attract new members, much in the same way virtual events have done. Giving people the flexibility to choose how they want to attend an event will not only build loyalty but help associations stand out too. More than 50% also feel that the move will allow them to be a lot more strategic in how they serve members (locally and internationally), while 41% say it will help them drive more engagement with existing members too.

Other new opportunities that associations can benefit from include more valuable data from events (31%), more revenue from on-demand content (29%), and more engagement from sponsors and exhibitors (15%) too.

To see the full results of the ‘Are Associations Ready for Hybrid Events’ research study, please download the FREE report here.

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