Goodbye 2020, and hello 2021! There are lots of things we have to look forward to in the upcoming year, including a much-anticipated return of in-person meetings and events.

While we all can not wait to be together in person again, the return of events will happen slowly, so don’t sign out of Zoom just yet. The industry is optimistic we’ll be able to meet in person this year, with Northstar Meetings Group Pulse Survey signaling that many planners are looking at Q3 and Q4 of 2021 to host safe meetings again.

With that in mind, here are our predictions on what trends we can expect to see in the industry this year:

Trend: Emphasis on health and safety

If you’re like me, you may have realized you’ve become hyper-aware of how easily germs are spread and how often others around us can be unaware of safety practices such as social distancing, sanitizing, and frequent hand washing. Attendees who go to events will be looking at everything through a health and safety lens, so we can expect venues and planners to be focusing heavily on these elements. We can expect to see these trends emerge through food and beverage, technology, and physical space.

With food and beverage, we will continue to see small, individualized portions, the absence of buffets, and an emphasis on foods that are a health and immunity booster. Technology will continue to encourage contactless encounters, and at larger events, we can even expect to see wearable devices that will alert when someone comes within 6 feet of another person. In regards to meeting spaces, planners will be looking for larger spaces and ballrooms for fewer people to ensure enough distance between individuals.

And as vaccines get rolled out to more of the population, we may even see proof of vaccination be required for some events, and we’ll still see some restrictions for entry if attendees are experiencing any COVID-like symptoms.

Trend: Virtual and hybrid events and experiences

We are not saying goodbye to our virtual meetings anytime soon. 2020 paved the way for the virtual/hybrid shift, and with almost a year running virtual events under our belt, 2021 is where we will refine our events and get the most out of our virtual platforms.

We can expect Q1 and Q2 to remain virtual-heavy, with a shift to more hybrid experiences as we get into Q3 and Q4. Planners will shift their overall event spend and invest in more AV and production costs, so venues should prepare packages that emphasize their audiovisual and hybrid capabilities.

Virtual experiences, such as cooking classes and tastings, will remain popular with corporate clients, who are opting for more targeted events with smaller groups, focusing on experience-based interactions and networking. Catering could see a rise in demand as we begin to see hybrid meetings, where companies may opt to rent a venue to record their event speakers and sessions and livestream them to locations where they host smaller, regional meetings to encourage networking.

Trend: Smaller meetings, closer to home

Business travel isn’t expected to return to 2019 levels until 2024, according to this report by AHLA, but we are slowly starting to see hopeful signs, starting with small and medium meetings driving travel in Q2 of 2021. Most people will be heading to social events before business events, so local restaurants will see demand for in-person social gatherings, such as baby showers, weddings, and birthdays before their corporate clients return.

It will take time for people to feel comfortable traveling again,and for companies to lift their restrictions on business travel, but a promising trend is seeing smaller meetings happening closer to home. Attendees will feel more comfortable traveling nearby by car than they will cross country by airplane. Corporate planners will capitalize on this trend by hosting smaller, more personalized, and regionally curated events and meetings.

Learn more about safer meetings and events

The hospitality industry has gotten better and more creative at running virtual and hybrid events over the last year. Check out these blog posts for more tips:

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