But the Event Industry Bloodbath is Coming

I love the positive messages I see on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. They lift me up on days when this whole quarantine thing is getting to be a drag and it feels like I am stuck on the spin cycle of Groundhog Day over and over and over.

I am also lucky to be working with my peeps at i3 Events, with “Remote, Reliable, Responsible” a meeting planning consortium, with Tess on The EventTech Pull Up, and also with the team at Dahlia+…. The days are super-busy and they are full of actual work. BUT… It is coming. There is going to be a reckoning that I am not sure we will be ready to deal with in the coming months.

You see and hear it in dribs and drabs. I call a hotel to talk about an event in 2021 and the convention services person has been furloughed so I talk to the sales person. The next week the sales person is gone and then I am on to the director. The following week the director is gone and I am talking to a VP and we all know that VPs really don’t do boots on the ground crap so everything has come to a halt. I am on my third person up the chain at our General Services contractor and we all have heard that EventBrite laid off half their staff and Attendify got rid of most. Meeting departments at companies are getting crushed and it goes on and on and on and on. But it is going to get worse. It is going to be a bloodbath unlike anything we have ever seen and soon the uplifting messages and Zoom Happy Hours are not going to be enough.

Uplifting messages don’t put food on the table. Zoom happy hours don’t help you pay for your health insurance. Positive vibes don’t put shoes on your kid when they finally have to go back to school.

What are we going to do when the world reopens because it won’t be the world we left. What are WE going to do when our friends and colleagues leave the industry because there is nothing left but a smoking crater where we all used to work, live, and laugh. Some of us are going to be OK. Some of us are masters of reinvention, some of us can roll with the punches, and some of us just “keep on keeping on” because it is what we do.

Others aren’t so lucky. Others can’t do what many of us can. They are going to hurt. They are going to be crushed under this thing because it is heavy. Heavier than anything that has every come before. This is not 2008. This thing is only in its infancy and I see our industry associations and Facebook groups celebrating our togetherness, our resolve, and our spirit. I see polls that talk about how we are worried, we are happy, we are united, but damn it, it will all be OK.

Yeah, about that. I don’t think so. Good luck with that. This is going to be bad. In fact, it is going to pass right by bad and exit somewhere down around freaking awful at a hundred miles an hour with no brakes and no power-steering and we, as an industry, are doing nothing to get ready for it, so when we crash, some of us are going to go through the windshield.

What I don’t see and what we need are the realists. The people speaking truth to the masses. You know, the ones letting us know that corporations are going to use this tragedy to close every hotel, every office, and every outpost that is under-performing, not just the ones in the red, and that companies are going to gut their employee rosters to the bare minimum making everyone do more with less and work longer hours so they can squeak out every last inch of shareholder value and crappy profits from a year of failures.

Someone needs to tell everyone that the small businesses, you know, those plucky little third party planning companies that produce some of the coolest events on the planet are going to be decimated. Someone needs to yell from the rooftop that the small tech companies that make sure that the big publicly traded behemoths like Cvent stay on their toes, are going to get bought up by the big dogs or they might just fade away. And that is just what I can come up with in a minute… Give me an hour and you can add the caterers, the linen companies, the A/V production houses…

Someone needs to be honest and tell us that much of the industry is going to die in the ICU of recessions and depressions and that the full total may never be counted. Innovation is going to die. People are going to wither. An industry is going to fade. I just hope we can find the leaders that will help us all face that fact sooner, rather than later, so we can try and land the plane before the last engine gives out.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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