2021 Outlook Report

Returning to Travel & Events

Innovatis Group surveyed over 1,000 technology professionals to understand the impact Covid-19 will have on 2021 travel and events.

Key Findings:

  • Most people (66%) expect to be back in office by Q2
  • Only a small number (9%) believe they won’t return to the office in 2021
  • Many companies are taking conservative stances on travel by not lifting bans until Q2/Q3 2021
  • Two key dependencies for increased travel are a decrease in cases and vaccine distribution
  • Most people won’t feel confident attending large events until the end of 2021, so smaller local events may pick up in Q2/Q3
  • Virtual events will be prominent for the first half of 2021, then gradually shift to in-person the latter half of the year

As we enter 2021, the world is simultaneously planning for continued virtual engagements, while preparing for the move back to in-person norms—but the question is when?

Our lives have been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic—arguably the worst global public health crisis in modern times. Most of us have been working from home since mid-March 2020 when in-person events and meetings came to a sudden halt. Online meetings and virtual events have been at the forefront to keep us all connected, and are now seemingly the norm.

Innovatis Group, a leading association management and engagement company, wanted to find out how people felt about events, travel, and returning to the office. Innovatis surveyed more than 1,000 professionals—most of whom are active events participants—to get their take on the questions we’re all asking: When will we return to work? What will that look like? What will travel look like? When will we be able to get back on a plane safely?

The input gathered gives specific insight into both the emotional willingness of people to go back to the office and to travel, as well as the company policies that will ultimately set the timeline.

These insights will help you as you plan your in-person strategies for 2021.

Who is working at home and what company policies are in place?

The extraordinary transition to working remotely has accelerated changes across the entire business universe: those who can work from home are doing so. The study shows that 92% of people are working from home in some capacity, with 71% working from home full-time and almost a quarter (22%) working from home part-time.

Those companies that continue to work in-office have instituted other policies or protocols, such as social distancing, temperature checks, masks and gloves, or reduced capacity limits to maintain safety in the office.

Travel restrictions have been implemented and budgets have been cut affecting about 50% of the workforce. Safeguarding their employees and themselves, almost half of the companies surveyed (49%) have placed bans on travel, while almost the same number (47%) have cut, frozen or reduced their travel budgets accordingly for 2020 and into 2021.

Training and education budgets have also been cut by almost a third (28%) of the respondents’ companies. Most likely this is an indication of management’s attention to safety, but also demonstrates a need to retrench in spending during the crisis.

51% of people
felt that they would be
comfortable getting on
a plane by Q2 2021.

People do not expect to return to work until at least Q2 2021.

Two-thirds (66%) of people working from home do not envision a return to work before at least the second quarter of 2021. While the majority are optimistic, there are still many that believe working from home will largely continue late into 2021. Notably, 9% feel that they will remain virtual for all of 2021 and potentially even longer.

Many are ready to travel now, but company policy will continue to limit return to travel.

The survey reports just over half (51%) of respondents felt that they would be comfortable getting on a plane by the second quarter of 2021— that number jumps to 81% of respondents that reported they would be comfortable with air travel by Q4, 2021.

However, respondents feel that their companies will continue to limit travel into the second half of 2021. Only 48% of those with a company travel ban anticipate that it will be lifted by Q2 of 2021.

Exhibit 1

When will we attend in-person events again?

60% of professionals felt they would be comfortable attending events in person by Q2 2021. And, by Q4 2021, a resounding 86% of professionals felt they would be comfortable attending in-person events if appropriate safety precautions were taken.

Event size is important.

Once people are comfortable enough to fly, is that enough to get them to attend an event? Yes and No.

Just over half (51%) of respondents felt that the size of an event would impact their decision to attend, even if appropriate safety precautions were taken.

So, where to draw the line?

Among those who felt event size would impact their attendance, more than half (53%) stated that they would only attend events of under 50 people. So, beyond personal comfort level, it’s important to look at other factors that might persuade someone to attend an event. Since size of meeting is a big decision factor, consider smaller, in-person meetings, initially, to gauge reactions and the “temperature” of people’s feelings/opinions.

What would make someone go back to in-person events sooner?

Vaccine: The vaccine clearly plays a major role in our perception of travel and events. Now that there are vaccines available, we can expect that people will start to have more confidence that the return to in-person events will happen sooner rather than later.

Over half (58%) of professionals would consider attending in-person events sooner if vaccines were distributed to more than 50% of the population.

Fewer Cases: And, among professionals who are not comfortable attending in-person events now, 70% would return to events sooner if the number of COVID-19 cases dropped significantly.

Exhibit 2

"Our communities are thriving with an increase in membership and overall activity. User groups are a great resource for people to network and learn with their peers"

Ann Saari
Director of Community Engagement, Innovatis Group

How should you plan?

Don’t rush into in-person events. No matter how important it is to the bottom line, it’s important not to frantically jump straight back to large, in-person events. Instead, be strategic about slowly introducing in-person, small events, with proper safety precautions—even with vaccine availability, people will want to see health safeguards in place.

What to do in the meantime? Continue to plan highly engaging virtual events that attract and involve your committed members and audiences.

When can we go back to in-person events? You can expect to begin hosting smaller, local/regional events towards the end of Q2 and beginning in Q3. Larger events are likely to come back later in the year.

While that’s a good timeline for planning, you should still expect some hesitation from prospective attendees. We suggest planning conservatively for attendance numbers.

Additionally, whether for a large or a small event, you should have an aggressive plan for addressing attendee concerns. And just as importantly, communicate them. Social distancing, limited crowds in small spaces, and sanitation stations are likely to be common for 2021 events.

Innovatis Group is here to help.

Innovatis Group is here to help engage your customers and communities. Every event we create is unique to each audience, and we are able to scale to meet your business objectives. We start with a desired feeling for your event, then we build an experience that brings that feeling to life. As a full-service association management company, we offer clients in-house support for every facet of their organization. Our clients experienced notable growth during this time of uncertainty, showcasing our agility and adaptability in any circumstance.

As our name suggests, our culture is rooted in bringing innovation and creativity—as well as excellence in service—to enable our clients’ success. Innovatis Group has become one of the fastest growing management companies in the world with three offices across the US. By tailoring solutions to meet our clients’ needs, we ensure thoughtful and relevant strategies that drive results. We manage over three hundred thousand community members across eighty countries and we customize our solutions to meet the needs of the communities we manage.

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Survey Methodology

The survey was conducted between October 28 and November 18, 2020, after almost eight months of the pandemic’s impact on the world.

The engagement sample included 1,066 technology professionals, all of whom were customer members across nine Innovatis Group-managed user groups.