What Has 9/11 Taught the Event Industry?
September 11, 2021 by Carolyn Bradfield, CEO Convey Services
Recently, an individual posted a question on an event industry discussion forum that caught my attention. He wanted thoughts from event organizers and consultants on whether the event industry would return to the way it was after the Pandemic subsides or has it re-invented itself permanently? Was potential fear mongering from the media the real driver to virtual events and would go away over time? The question he posed brought me back to the time I ran a conference calling company in 2001 and the effect that 9/11 had on the industry.
What effect did 9/11 have on events?
When the planes hit the Twin Towers and all air traffic was grounded, our conferencing business grew quickly and exponentially as many of our customers set up accounts for employees who were on a travel pause for at least 30 days after 9/11. People who had never held a conference call before were holding meetings with their remote teams, conducting virtual sales calls, and doing business on audio conference calls. But then air travel resumed, people relaxed a little and business started to get back to normal. Unexpectedly, our conferencing revenue not only held steady, but continued to grow.
When we looked for a reason that our company as well as the entire conferencing industry continued to grow despite everyone’s ability to get back to their normal travel routine, several things jumped out at us. Rather than paying to bring the team out of the field and into the office for regional meetings, businesses found that weekly conference calls kept the team informed and connected. Sales could handle 5 times as many sales calls in a day on conference calls than they could in person, often with the same result. Companies began diverting travel budget to other mission-critical items. There was never a thought of returning to the time when conferencing was not being used as a day-to-day communications tool.
So, what does the business behavior surrounding 9/11 say about the event industry? Even though live events are returning, the industry will likely not go back to a time where there are little to no technology options to participate virtually. Attendees have gotten used to the convenience of having online options to attend workshops and sessions at their convenience. Companies have discovered the efficiency of not having to pay for staff to travel, be away from their job, or ship a booth. Organizations have found alternate ways to socialize, connect and start conversations online.
9/11 taught us that once technology innovations make doing business more convenient, quicker and more cost effective, it’s hard to put the genie back into the bottle. Events like 9/11 and the Pandemic, as painful as they are, accelerate innovation, streamline processes, and cause us to evolve in ways we never expected.
Virtual and hybrid events are not only not going away but are now part of the fabric of how we conduct a tradeshow, manage an annual association conference, or deliver a sales kickoff. Will the live event industry return to the way it was before the Pandemic? Has the media scared us enough to stay away from live venues? The answer is that the events industry has evolved into a model, not driven by fear tactics, but rather by the opportunities and convenience of having technology connect us in ways we never expected.