Physical events will not return until 2022: GDS Group

physical events will not return until 2022
  • GDS predicts the events industry will thrive in 2021 with digital offerings
  • GDS has seen 30% growth in 2020 by switching entirely to digital events and has increased headcount by 25%
  • GDS’s “Meet the Boss” digital offering saw 300% growth in H2 2020 as the pandemic and global lockdowns took hold
  • Digital transformation remains the top topic for all industries as they look to adapt to the post-pandemic environment

GDS Group, the global events, research and technology services company, has claimed that physical events will not return until 2022, but the global events industry will thrive by doubling down on digital offerings.

As coronavirus measures such as lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions made physical events largely impossible at the start of 2020, the global events industry was forced to adopt a virtual model overnight. According to data published by VisitBritain, the UK events industry is forecast to lose £58 billion in 2020.

Business events in particular saw cancellation levels of 55% in Q2 and Q3. Many events companies have announced sweeping cost-cutting measures and redundancies in response to lost revenue. However, those that have been able to deliver digital events, like GDS Group, have thrived and even grown substantially during this period.

No events in 2021

In 2019, 80% of GDS Group’s revenue originated from its 60 physical executive summits around the world, with the remaining 20% derived from digital events and services, including its Meet the Boss virtual roundtables. In 2020, 100% of GDS Group’s revenue will be derived from its digital events programme with the business also predicting growth levels of 30% against the same period in 2019.

At the same time, it has recruited 50 more staff in customer services and product development during the pandemic period (increasing its headcount by 25%) and saw growth of 300% in its Meet the Boss virtual roundtable events during H1 2020.

Spencer Green, founder and chairman of GDS Group comments, “As a business, we planned back in March 2020 for the next 18 months to be disrupted by COVID, so we went all-in on digital events. While we would love to welcome our customers back to physical events again in 2021, we are working on the assumption that all events will remain virtual until at least 2022.”

“COVID hit us right at the start of our Spring events schedule, forcing us to cancel everything. At this point we asked ourselves; how can we digitally transform the business to deliver the same outcomes for our customers in lieu of physical events? In H2 2020 we saw 300% growth in our ‘Meet the Boss’ digital roundtable offering as our customers were forced to cancel their physical event bookings.”

“This showed us that our customers still wanted to trade. They still needed to find new customers, learn from their peers and understand the latest trends, so we invested in our existing digital offerings to deliver those same outcomes virtually. The whole business is now committed to delivering virtual events that are more powerful and data driven than our previous physical portfolio, creating an opportunity for the future that will play a key role in how executives approach business post-COVID.”

“As a result of pivoting our business to digital events, not only we were able to stay in business during the coronavirus period, but we increased revenues by 30%, raised our headcount by 25% and invested in additional products which will underpin our growth in future years when physical events return.”

Digital transformation remains the number 1 CxO topic

GDS delivers summits to a broad range of industries, including financial services, IT, healthcare, HR, manufacturing, marketing, oil and gas, retail and supply chain. Despite the varied nature of these industries, one topic that has been common to all of GDS’s summits over the last few years has been digital transformation.

“The overriding topic of our summits – digital transformation – has grown in importance for our customers this year, so they are more driven than ever to understand it. Where previously it was something to plan for over the next few years, coronavirus brought it to the fore as a business imperative to deliver today. As a recognised leader in delivering insightful content on this topic, we were well positioned to capitalise on the additional interest in the trend this year. We expect digital transformation will remain the most important topic for CxOs over the next few years.”

Looking to 2021, GDS expects to continue its strong growth rate of 30%-40% as it broadens its digital portfolio even further with the launch of new digital events and services.

In particular, it expects clients to use its new “Showcase” virtual event managed service as a way of professionally hosting large-scale internal company meetings such as Global All Hands and Sales Kick Offs, and external corporate events such as Partner/Investor Days.

About GDS Group

GDS Group is a global events, research and technology services company dedicated to helping clients meet the challenges posed by a fast-moving, disruptive business environment. Our B2B summits and events bring purchaser and provider communities together to find solutions to real-world business challenges. To learn more about the events we produce and the challenges we help overcome, check out our website here.


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