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A Snapshot of Sentiments about the Return to Meetings and Incentives

Two industry surveys show that getting back to in-person meetings and incentives before the end of 2021 looks promising but will come with changes in planning and execution.

As vaccinations move along and rates of Covid-19 transmission drop across America, there’s good news on the meetings and incentives front: 70 percent of more than 400 planners surveyed last month by Global DMC Partners said that their organizations will begin holding in-person events by Q4 2021, while 84 percent of planners surveyed in the past month by the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence said that their first post-pandemic domestic reward-travel programs will take place by the end of Q1 2022. Further, 59 percent of the SITE survey respondents said that international travel-reward programs will happen in that time frame as well.

With 2021 in-person programs, though, many things will not be as they were in 2019. Global DMC Partners’ Q1 2021 Pulse Survey found that meetings will become smaller than most planners expected. The percentage of respondents who said their largest in-person meeting in 2021 would be 250 or fewer people rose to 67 percent in April from 47 percent just three months prior, reflecting growing pessimism among respondents about event budgets in the near term: 52 percent said that their 2021 in-person budget will be reduced from 2020, up from 37 percent who said so three months earlier.

Also, 55 percent of respondents said that their meetings in the foreseeable future might require proof of Covid vaccination—although just 12 percent of respondents to Meeting Professionals International’s Spring 2021 Meetings Outlook said as of last month that they will definitely require that. Meanwhile, 48 percent of Global DMC Partners’ respondents said that Covid testing on site will be likely; 27 percent will likely require attendees to sign a liability release based on the event host’s due diligence in keeping the event health-secure; and 25 percent will likely conduct contact tracing and tracking in the event an attendee tests positive for Covid on site.

Among those who responded to SITE’s survey, titled “The Changing Face of Incentive Travel,” contracting and risk management was ranked the most important issue (8.26 out of 10) among the issues deemed central to event success in the near future. The only other issues that came close in importance to contracting and risk management were destination selection (7.66) and improved analytics (5.26). 

One stat that will make planners smile: 94 percent of SITE respondents said that their executives were “100-percent supportive” of resuming incentive-travel programs in the post-Covid environment, while the remaining six percent said their executives were somewhat supportive of future reward-travel programs. 

As for permanent changes to organizations’ meetings portfolios, 30 percent of respondents to Global DMC Partners’ survey said that more than half of their in-person meetings will use a hybrid format from now on, while another 30 percent said that more than half of their meetings will be fully virtual. For advice on how to manage a meetings team that must now balance a portfolio of in-person, hybrid, and virtual events, check out this MeetingsNet article.

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