COVID-19 and 2020 has changed the way event planning is handled, but how much of that will continue on after the pandemic is over? Joanne Dennison, Boston University School of Hospitality Administration adjunct professor of hospitality meeting and event planning, and owner of event company MeetGuide, spoke with Boston University about the future of event planning.

Dennison believes that the trade show and exhibition industries, as well as smaller events, will be permanently changed due to COVID-19. This includes virtual, in-person, and hybrid events — which she believes will all be around permanently, even after the pandemic is over.

“A lot of planners are doing huge amounts of virtual meetings. What people don’t understand is, a well-designed, well-run virtual meeting takes as much work as an in-person one. More than the logistics, how do you make it interesting? How do you make it entertaining? How do you chop it up? How do you find the right speakers, who may be different speakers than those who present face-to-face? How do you use a breakout? What do we do with meals—do we send them gift packs and GrubHub cards?” she explained. “I talked to two corporate planners the other day. One was trying to run an all-day meeting virtually. You have to know how to cue people, change screens, put up graphics. And [the meeting hosts] were expecting her to answer the phone. She was flipping out, because when you’re running any kind of meeting, your focus needs to be on that.”

Although hybrid meetings have been around for a while, Dennison explained that hybrid meetings will become a norm in the industry.

“People can attend face-to-face or virtually. There have been people pushing for that for five, seven years. There are a lot of good reasons,” she said. “For associations, probably three-quarters of their revenue came from their annual convention, their mid-year conference. People who could not afford to travel—a lot of people pay out of pocket—they’re finding more people are attending because they don’t have the cost of travel [with hybrid].”

Hybrid events offer a number of issues, including how you set the room up so both remote and in-person attendees can see everything and feel involved. Although many events are currently still virtual only, some event planners and convention centers have already begun experimenting with truly hybrid events.

Hybrid events will also continue to be popular in the next few years because of a reluctance for travel and attending events. Dennison explained: “A company might have had a national sales convention, and now do five regional meetings. They might have a hybrid component. That will probably be the rest of 2021. Then comes 2022, and it will open up for more national meetings, and I think almost everything will have a hybrid component. They may not have the 3,000- or 5,000-people event; maybe they’ll do East Coast and West Coast events. I foresee people being reluctant to go to meetings that involve that many people, even next year.”

Dennison believes events will reach their 2019 numbers by 2023, and expects the industry to be completely back to normal by then.