Construction industry events: When and how will they return?

Ontario Construction News staff writer

Among the most stunning and immediate changes that occurred when the COVID-19 pandemic reached a crisis level was the sudden cancellation of events and meetings – small and local, and large and international.

Just days before the annual Canadian Construction Association (CCA) conference was scheduled in San Diego, organizers pulled the plug. In Ottawa, the annual Ottawa Construction Association annual general meeting on March 12 occurred just hours before public health officials ordered a shut-down of public events. Since then, organizations have resorted to virtual meetings – but things are definitely not the same.

Reasonable questions to ask would include: When will events resume, and if they do, how will they be conducted – at least until the COVID-19 crisis is resolved?

Michael Harker of Enigma Research, which conducts event-marketing surveys and reviews, decided to ask these questions, and he came up with answers that suggest the return to normalcy will take some time, and may not truly be possible until a vaccine is developed and the public health risk declines dramatically.

His survey of about 2,000 event-goers indicates that most people want to return to live events, and to travel to them, but how and when they will make the leap varies greatly – and the position that may be supported by one person could be diametrically questioned by another.

His first question: When will live events return?

“Unfortunately, there cannot be a single definitive answer. Governments will make most of these decisions and their jurisdictions cross over hundreds if not thousands of regions at many levels. The re-opening dates and criteria will vary widely.
“So how can we prepare? The moment any live event is given the go-ahead by authorities, they will want to have plans in place.”

The survey discovered that virtual events are seen by many as a poor substitute for live events; most people want to see, feel, touch, network, and be in contact on a much more immediate level than Zoom or video conferencing applications can make possible.

However, despite this support for live rather than remove events, the questions remain about how and when should events be organized.

“Market researchers love surveys that provide clear roadmaps,” Harker wrote. “Despite my hopes, I must report that this is not one of them, as almost all the results are divided.”

“For every person who wants events reopened tomorrow there is someone who plans to stay away. Some event-goers think the virus is a hoax, while others swear that events reopening will trigger a second wave.
“An event could gain a customer by enforcing a security measure only to lose another for the same reason. One section in our report contains hundreds of verbatim comments which will convince you that it will be impossible to please everyone.

“My advice to event professionals is to use Enigma’s data as a guide or a starting point. Combine it with experience, trusted opinions, and your own gut feeling before making decisions for your event. A smart decision can please many customers but there will also be strong opposition, so be ready with your justification.”

You can read the complete research report here.

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