Hybrid and virtual format events helped offset losses caused by the cancellation of face-to-face events last year according to the results of the new “Meetings and Events Barometer 2021/2022” as published by The German National Tourist Board (GNTB), the EVVC European Association of Event Centres and the German Convention Bureau (GCB).

The report also confirmed that hybrid and virtual format events in Germany, as well as sustainable planning, are here to stay.

Trends in incoming business travel

The total number of business travellers from Europe to Germany decreased by 12% in 2021, according to data from IPK International. Germany however continued to lead the ranking of European business travel destinations by a wide margin. Of the 29.7 million business trips made by Europeans in 2021, 4.4 million were to Germany. France followed with 2.4 million and Italy with 2.3 million business trips. Business travel related to trade fairs and MICE contributed 2.1 million trips to Germany’s travel market.

The forecasts for the sector in 2022 are also positive. According to studies by IPK International, 23% of respondents worldwide are planning business trips abroad. In Asia (38%) and America (33%), the intent to go on business trips is significantly stronger than in Europe (14%). For Germany, the demand for MICE travel with 79% clearly exceeds the segment of traditional business travel with 49%.

“As an internationally leading business travel destination, Germany is well prepared for the ‘new normal,’” said Petra Hedorfer, CEO of the German National Tourist Board. “Market players have positioned themselves for the future demands of the market with innovative products such as hybrid formats. We now clearly see a pent-up demand and in the markets that were more affected by pandemic travel restrictions, travel intentions are increasing disproportionately. This confirms how important on-site attendance is in the mix of online, in-person and hybrid events. We see great opportunities to expand Germany’s top position as a business travel destination.”

Leipzig is famous as a trade, exhibition and conference destination in Eastern Germany (Photo: LC/Cleverdis)

Germany’s events market

In Germany, the number of in-person attendees increased by 10.3% compared to the previous year. Of the 68.4 million people who attended a business event on-site in 2021, 50 million attended an in-person event (2020: 60 million), and 18.4 million (2020: 1.8 million) a hybrid event.

Hybrid formats turned out to be market drivers. In 2021, a total of 4.2 million events (2020: 2.3 million) with 432 million attendees (2020: 232.5 million) took place in Germany across the three formats online, hybrid and in-person. The supply side, i.e. the number of venues, remained stable in the second year of the crisis.

Work-related travel is on the rise again compared to 2020, albeit with continued capacity adjustments and limited international travel. These restrictions are also reflected in the numbers of international attendees with an average share of 2% in 2021.

Digitalisation meets sustainability

The pandemic has strongly driven the digital transformation of the events market. Virtual formats brought structural change and created a higher awareness for the importance of sustainable business events. Seventy-nine percent of the organisers surveyed stated that sustainability plays an important role for them and significantly influences their decision-making. With the mega-trends towards digitalisation and sustainability, hybrid events are becoming doubly important. In 2021, they achieved an outstanding growth of 280% with 0.36 million events organised. With 3 million events, the share of virtual formats also increased by 120%.

ITB Berlin Convention in 2022 adopted a virtual format but should be back as a hybrid event in 2023 (Photo: ITB Berlin)

Business events of the future will be multidimensional

The figures illustrate the need for a dual focus on face-to-face encounters and linking up online, which is confirmed by both the surveyed organisers and suppliers with a view to how the market will develop in the coming years. The flexibility that attendees can enjoy as a result also noticeably increases the reach of events. “The different ways of attending events reflect an overarching trend: the future of business events is not one-dimensional but will play out in different scenarios,” said Matthias Schultze, GCB managing director.

“While some want the maximum flexibility provided by taking part in events remotely, others prefer to meet people in person. These changing customer requirements will have to be considered with even more attention and corresponding offers will have to be developed. Germany as a destination for meetings and congresses is well prepared for such diverse demands with an equally diverse offering.”

The results of the ‘Meeting- & EventBarometer 2021/2022’ report show that sustainability and digitalisation are two basic requirements for the successful recovery of the German events market. According to a medium “baseline” scenario, analysts expect the market to largely recover by 2024 in terms of the number of event attendees.

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