As Convene‘s December issue was going to press, the drug maker Moderna reported its coronavirus vaccine was 94.5 percent effective, according to preliminary data from an ongoing study — news that comes just a week after Pfizer and German partner BioNTech’s announcement that its vaccine trial results indicate a 90-percent effective rate. The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci called the vaccines “the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The U.S. travel economy has taken a $443-billion hit since the beginning of March, so the industry breathed a big sigh of relief with the vaccine news. After Pfizer’s announcement, cruise line company Carnival’s shares soared nearly 40 percent — its best day ever in more than three decades as a public company. Airline and hotel stocks also experienced double-digit jumps.
Even as we celebrate, we’ll need a dose of patience. Experts say that it will take many vaccines to meet the global demand, and that it may be spring or summer before anyone who is not high risk and wants to get vaccinated can get a shot in the U.S.
What does that mean in terms of a timeline for the business events industry’s recovery? Our October Business Events Compass calls for recovery by Q3 2022. Between now and then, we have work to do to prepare our businesses and careers for a new business events industry. With great news of multiple effective vaccines, I worry that many event organizers expect their attendees to flock to in-person events, similar to pre-pandemic times. This is a risky assumption.
While I truly believe there is a pent-up demand to gather in person with colleagues at conferences and conventions — and I remain optimistic about the future of business events — I’m also mindful that COVID-19 is a double crisis. Even after we get the health crisis under control, we still need to reckon with coronavirus’ economic impact. The pandemic has dealt a blow to many industries and sectors. Many professionals will lack the funds to travel to events and many companies have slashed their travel budgets.
That means we need to embrace hybrid models in which the larger share of our audiences will be digital. At a session at the New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in November, Choice Hotels President and CEO Patrick Pacious cautioned that even “when business travel comes back fully, some of it may not return,” according to a Business Travel News article. “We as an industry need to be … figuring out how to adapt the assets we have to attract the business traveler of the future, but also looking at the new normal.”
At the conference, Expedia Business Services president Ariane Gorin also noted that hotels are investing in audiovisual and technology equipment and provided the example of in-person groups in multiple cities connected in a single hybrid meeting — the approach we are taking with Convening Leaders 2021 in January. I hope you’ll join us for an insightful and thought-provoking experience. There’s never been a more critical time for us to gather as an industry to chart our course for the future.
Sherrif Karamat is president and CEO of PCMA.