The spread of Omicron makes it less likely that marketers will attend in-person events in the near future. Only half of marketers surveyed by Third Door Media’s MarTech website said they will attend an in-person event, conference, or trade show in the first half of 2022.

That outlook improved slightly for the second half of the year; 60% said they were likely to attend then.

With reduced attendance, it is risky to rely on in-person events as a lynchpin demand gen strategy in 2022. Consider high-lead volume lead gen alternatives including virtual editions of the MarTech Conference (March 29-30 and September 28-29), and virtual editions of Search Marketing Expo – SMX (June 14-15 and November 15-16) this year. Click here to request a prospectus for these events.

Is the in-person event attendance reduced for the long term?

Only 70% of marketers said it was likely they would attend an in-person event in the first half of 2023, but the pandemic has shown us just how much can change in a year.

The most recent survey was the eighth edition of the Events Participation Index, and there’s a clear pattern in the data. When asked about the likelihood of attending events more than 6 months away, respondents were always more optimistic. But each time those far-away dates got closer, their comfort level fell.

For example, respondents in March 2021 gave the likelihood of attending an event in the first quarter of 2022 a 7 out of 10. But marketers give the entire first half a 5 out of 10 when asked again in November 2021.

It’s not surprising, given the rise of variants and the reluctance by some to get vaccinated against the virus. But for event exhibitors, it just means the optimism prospective attendees have today may not be there come event time.

The chart below shows the likelihood respondents gave for attending events within three months of the time the survey was fielded. It shows that we are indeed out of those darker periods where in-person gatherings were either canceled or not remotely feasible. But it also shows that we’ve yet to see a period where likelihood crosses 50%.

Comfort Level

That hesitancy is also playing out in budgets. Nearly 80% of the 220 marketers who took our survey said they are budgeted to attend a few events in 2022.

Virtual events or bust?

Virtual event attendance is likely to remain strong through the first half of 2023, according to the survey. Sixty-percent of respondents said they would likely attend a virtual event in the next 18 months.

Most respondents suggested that organizers continue to produce hybrid and virtual experiences, especially if they need to once again cancel in-person shows.

“I prefer virtual events as an attendee,” wrote one respondent. “Limiting travel expenses and time has allowed me to attend more events than ever before. Some in-person is nice, but prefer this to be after an initial relationship is established and the goal and value of the offerings are clearly established.”

“I think people will expect hybrid events to become the norm,” wrote one respondent.

“I think two things are equally true,” wrote another. “Some people miss in-person events, but others have appreciated the time and money saved by attending virtual events.”

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