By Joel Crouch, Eventbrite VP of Global Revenue

At last, it seems that the return of live events is gaining momentum. The end of the COVID-19 crisis seems in sight. Is it too early to look at the bright side of a pandemic that has hit the events industry in the chest so hard it’s still struggling to breathe? Maybe, but hear me out.

Yes, we’re all painfully aware that the past year has been very challenging. And sometimes the hardships and endless doom scrolling on social media can become so all-consuming that it makes it hard to see anything positive altogether. As impossible as it may seem now, though, I believe that when we look at this pandemic through our rearview mirror we will agree that COVID-19 wasn’t all bad for events. You can argue that it brought on or accelerated some changes that were fundamentally positive. 

With that said

What has the pandemic ever done for us?

Being apart for so long has heightened our appreciation of getting together.
Before the pandemic, we all had some idea that events aren’t just a diversion, something to do when you’re bored. But over the past year I would argue that everyone realised, in a very tangible, immediate, and personal way, just how important getting together at events is. For feeling connected. For feeling inspired. For feeling free. We took freedom of movement and freedom of assembly for granted. COVID has reminded us that both are an essential part of our culture and of being human, and I would wager that this will translate the post pandemic era into a Golden Age for the events industry.

Virtual events adoption has leapfrogged several years.
Before March 2020, there had been some individual successes with virtual concerts in online games like Fortnite. Outside of the gaming community, though, online events were pretty niche and hardly anyone had tried them out. Cue the global pandemic, and all of a sudden online events are the only viable event format left. March 2020 thus marked the start of an unprecedented mass experiment: Would organisers be able to host events virtually? And would anyone care? Judging by the numbers, we now have proof that virtual events can work. 

Globally, we hosted more than 1.4 million online experiences on Eventbrite last year, attended by 75 million attendees. ‘That was a captive audience’, you might rightly say, ‘will people want online events when the pandemic is over’? It looks like it. We asked more than 3,000 consumers in Australia, the UK, and the US. And just over half of them (53%) said they plan to attend both virtual and in-person events in the future – even when it is safe to gather in-person again. For event creators, this opens up audiences from around the globe. This new, global reach is especially exciting for creators of niche events that might have a hard time attracting an audience locally. Glocal, it seems, has truly arrived in events.     

The new events landscape is more inclusive than ever before
The mass trial of online events during the pandemic also had a somewhat unexpected positive side effect on diversity and inclusion. We noticed that there was a bunch of people in our global audiences who previously hadn’t attended any events at all. For all kinds of reasons. Some have anxiety around other people, some can’t travel because of physical disabilities, others never found the time or can’t leave their kids or other loved ones alone. What’s more, online events are typically cheaper to join than live events, which allowed less affluent people to experience more events than before. And, naturally, you can have Australians, Indians and Nigerians show up to streamed cooking classes in London or Los Angeles. For diversity and inclusion, online events truly are a godsend.

We’re finally getting over pencil, paper and cash
When you work in a tech company, it’s easy to forget that the rest of the world lives outside of our digital bubble and adopts new technology at a more … leisurely pace. There is no shortage of people who are used to writing cheques, sending faxes, handling paper tickets, and paying with cold hard cash. They just don’t see any reason to change a winning team if it works perfectly well for them. The pandemic, of course, changed all that. The whole touchy feely element of these things all of a sudden became dangerous and something to avoid. 

Doing things digitally and without touch became a necessity, and that extended to the events industry. Digital ticketing was introduced in places that previously were decidedly analogue, like gardens, churches, museums, grand houses or castles. Those attractions needed to set up efficient pre-booking of time slots to ensure social distancing. And whoever used this technology for the first time realised many of the other benefits of doing things digitally: you can easily sell tickets in advance, and it’s nearly fully automated. You process payments digitally. You can, whenever you want, see how many tickets you’ve sold, who your guests are, where you have sold them tickets, where they found you, and much more.  

And just like you wouldn’t go back to your trusted brick phone after you have used a smartphone, most of these organisers will likely stick with digital ticketing. And that’s a win for both them and their attendees.

So yes, the pandemic was undoubtedly awful for events, and I’m far from cheering on COVID-19 and its mutant siblings. But the pandemic has also propelled events forward in some profound ways that organisers and attendees will benefit from for years to come.

Interested in what’s ahead for events? Eventbrite will help event creators around the world prepare for the return of in-person events and determine the future of the live experience economy at RECONVENE, a free virtual summit on May 20-21, 2021. RECONVENE will bring together independent event creators, artists, authors, producers and entrepreneurs, as well as leaders in health, equity and wellness for learning and knowledge sharing. Featured speakers include Priya Parker, the best-selling author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters and the host of The New York Times podcast, “Together Apart” and Bob Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at UCSF and guest host of the “In the Bubble” podcast.

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