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2020 was a deeply challenging year for the event industry. While 2021 holds more promise, the entire industry continues to grapple with instability and significant change. Not sure what to expect for 2021 and beyond? Check out these eight predictions for the future of the live event industry over the next several years.

Attendees Will Remain Virtual or Hybrid, At Least This Year

If you’re offering a hybrid event in 2021, it’s fair to wonder what your attendance will be like. There’s no precedent for a moment like this one, which makes planning a challenge.

Our prediction for 2021, at least, is that most attendees will remain virtual if given a chance. Vaccines are widely available in the US, but that doesn’t mean that live event attendance will be back to pre-pandemic levels. Many people are still wary about large, in-person events with many uncontrollable variables (not to mention the travel required to get there). And companies are still nervous about significant expenditures given the still-fragile state of the economy. We will see a steady uptick in blended/hybrid events where small to mid-sized gatherings occur in the back half of the year with a virtual component for those who feel more comfortable going that route.

If most of your attendees are virtual, build your event with this in mind. Don’t make the virtual component an afterthought. Bluewater’s virtual event platform can empower you to create meaningful virtual and hybrid experiences that keep your attendees engaged.

Experiences Will Drive In-Person Attendance, Not Content

You probably have a financial interest in boosting in-person attendance. Large brands, sponsors, and exhibitors are expecting it, and you have to cover the cost of the event space, to give a couple of reasons. But how can you do this if the majority of your attendees want to stay virtual?

Virtual events can be a fantastic way to deliver content. If your event is only about the transfer of knowledge, there’s little incentive to attend in person.

The value of in-person is in the experiences and networking opportunities they offer. Your mission for your in-person events is to create memorable, meaningful experiences that show people the value of in-person. (And make sure your virtual attendees know what they’re missing.)

Shift to Smaller, Local, Community-Based Events

As in-person events return, we expect them to be shorter and smaller in scale. It’s going to be a while before those global, week-long in-person conferences return.

There’s just so much uncertainty around health and safety, and as virtual and hybrid event technology matures, it’s hard to see a future with many 10,000-attendee business events, but we might see hybrid events that push the limits even further. We’ll have future posts regarding what a 15,000-20,000 global hybrid event could look like in the future.

On the flip side, we expect an increase in smaller, shorter events. Day-long or even half-day local industry events, short business retreats, and the like are starting to pop-up. By keeping the scope smaller, businesses can create increased value for that small circle while controlling costs and risks.

On-Site Sponsorships and Exhibitors May Diminish

The companies that sponsor or exhibit at your in-person event or trade show are paying attention to these trends as well. There’s a good chance that you’ll see on-site sponsorships diminish, and you may see a decline in the numbers of exhibitors if your in-person attendance remains lower.

This may not be the crisis it sounds like, however. With the right virtual events platform, you can offer virtual sponsorships and a virtual exhibit hall that creates real value for your sponsors — without the immense overhead of sending an in-person team to staff a booth. Check out’s virtual exhibit hall to see what we mean.

Newly Remote Companies Will See Events as a Chance to Build Relationships and Connect

Over a year into this pandemic, there are thousands of bosses and employees that haven’t yet met face to face — at companies that continue to rely on face-to-face relationship building. One trend we expect to see in a post-pandemic world is a rise in internal events.

Instead of creating massive public-focused or industry-focused events, businesses will use those resources to develop internal retreats and connection events.

Venues Must Upgrade to Stay Relevant (Sanitization, Network Capability, Video Readiness)

To host hybrid events in 2021 and beyond, venues are facing some costly upgrades. Sanitation expectations are higher than before, and there are steep new demands in terms of network and video capability.

Venues will have to invest, perhaps heavily, if they want to survive as a hybrid-capable event space.

AR and VR Will Move from Niche to Mainstream

With fewer in-person attendees, companies will need a way to emulate that in-person, tactile experience. AR and VR are already filling this need in a niche capacity, and the technology is advancing fast. Expect these technologies to move to the mainstream soon, creating new opportunities for event planners and businesses alike.

Innovative Organizations Will Prioritize Risk Management More than Before

If your business was 100% reliant on in-person events or sales from those events, 2020 was a disastrous year. None of us anticipated that circumstances would change so quickly. We’re all a lot more risk-averse than we were before, and that reality extends to business decision-makers.

Innovative organizations will prioritize risk management on a level that they did not before the pandemic. This may include reconsidering the value of hosting or attending in-person events and looking for other novel solutions to fill these needs.

Diversification is the key to surviving this crisis and the next one. As far as events go, be prepared to offer in-person, all-virtual, and hybrid events so you can pivot as necessary, no matter what comes next.

Are you looking for guidance in how to pull off a fantastic hybrid event or how to create more value in your in-person experiences? Bluewater is here to help. Reach out today to schedule a free consult.