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Photo Credit: Canva/Pixabay

New Zealanders are optimistic and keen to get back to the meeting room, with face-to-face events remaining more important than ever, according to new research conducted in the Business Events sector for Tourism New Zealand. The survey of more than 230 New Zealand-based organizations found that overall, 94% are planning to hold a business event in the next 18 months.

New Zealand’s successful response in eliminating community transmission of Covid-19 means that there are no current restrictions on mass gatherings in the country and business events can go ahead without social distancing.

The survey found that after New Zealand’s two-month lockdown, the appetite to meet face-to-face remains, or has even grown: 79% of those surveyed consider face-to-face conferences and offsite meetings important for their organization; while 39% said they appreciated the importance of face-to-face conferences and offsite meetings more now than pre-COVID-19.

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Even so, events in the next 18 months will be smaller and less frequent compared to pre-COVID-19 activity: businesses expect event budgets to be reduced, while associations predict less interest from their members and to feel the effects of closed borders on international attendance. There are, however, other barriers to booking business events that the industry can influence.

Challenges and opportunities in booking business events

Nearly half – 45% – of respondents said that Covid-19 pandemic affected what they look for in a destination for meetings and conferences: many are more price-sensitive; a large number are planning events “closer to home”; there is more focus on supplier’s health & safety standards, and a greater need for teleconferencing technologies. Regardless of the pandemic being under control in New Zealand, delegates are still wary, and health and safety remain a priority for event organisers.

In response to a push for standardised health and safety information in the events sector, Conventions and Incentives New Zealand (CINZ) has released a new Voluntary Code for event organisers to safely deliver events by following best practice expectations, which are based on Ministry of Health guidance to reduce COVID-19 related risks. Inflexible cancellation policies were recognised as one of the key factors holding back organisations from committing to business events, with respondents signalling that more favourable cancellation policies to share risk would help.

The rise of technology and ‘death by Zoom’

Technology is a growing factor in business event decision-making: 82% of organizations said that it will be important for conference venues to offer technology that enables hybrid conferences. However, feedback suggested this could be an opportunity to build a larger, multi-channel, audience, rather than a drain on numbers.

Virtual meeting software - Zoom

Suppliers are therefore urged to address concerns over the perceived high cost and low quality of the technology options at some venues, with organisers wanting excellent, high-speed internet connections and multi-media delivery platforms that can combine livestream, on demand, and interactive physical attendance.

The majority (67%) of respondents said that technology is unlikely to replace the need for face-to-face conferences in the long-term: 86% believe face-to-face will remain vital for their organisation; only 15% believe technology will replace face-to-face meetings in the long-term.

Respondents noted: “Associations need to offer virtual components to their face-to-face meetings. But to work well, it needs to leverage off a physical event. The two go hand-in-hand. No one likes ‘death by zoom’. Humans like to meet.”