Event Trends for 2020: A New Decade for this Flourishing, Evolving Industry

The events industry is flourishing. The 2020 Future Trends in Meetings & Events Report from CWT Meetings & Events found that the meetings and events industry is growing by eight percent annually.

It makes sense. Multiple research from the past decade determined that people would rather spend money on a desired event or experience over buying a big-ticket item. Initially, it was believed that it was mostly the millennials who felt this way, due to a Harris Group study from 2014. However, more research, such as this 2018 study and the recently released “WE KNOW Experiences 2.0,” discovered that a majority of all Americans prioritize experiences over products or things.

The events industry is evolving. For example, if you were headed to a big event, you could accurately guess the destination from a handful of cities. However, the CWT Meetings & Events report also found that the top U.S. event destination cities are shifting. While mainstays like New York and San Francisco continue to top the list, newcomers like Austin, Portland, and Minneapolis are increasingly becoming desirable locations. These rising destinations frequently offer better value than the top 10 cities and are building new venues and facilities to accommodate their increased demand.

As a new decade for the events industry dawns, here are some of the trends that will dominate 2020.

Every Event Will Get an App


Millennials are currently the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, and the even more digitally native Generation Z is just beginning to enter the scene. These two generations do everything on their phones, including event-related tasks, such as booking travel, reserving accommodations, and buying tickets. Of course, that’s not to overlook Gen X and boomers, since both of those generations spend a great deal of time staring at their smartphones, as well.

In 2019, apps saw a significant rise at events, both in the number of events using them (there was an 83 percent increase in the number of event apps created since 2017) and in their usage (74 percent of event attendees download the event app).

Naturally, this correlates to the overall usefulness of event apps. Once a poor facsimile of a printed program, today’s event apps provide a host of useful, interactive services for attendees, including dramatically speeding up check-in, delivering interactive engagements, and facilitating networking possibilities. In return, apps provide event planners with a wealth of valuable data about each attendee’s journey.

Apps also help the event continue after the doors close. Attendees want valuable, ongoing content, and by creating an industry community that uses the app to stay in touch and up to date, your event will deliver value throughout the year.

In 2020, event apps that enhance the event experience will be a necessity.

The Rise of the Event Optimizer

The coming decade will see a shift from event planners to event optimizers. That may sound like a petty distinction, but modern companies expect proof that their event investments are generating a return. That’s precisely what event optimizers provide: the ability to accurately measure event ROI.

Event optimizers are elite event marketers who accurately capture event ROI to surpass their business goals by putting a premium on investing in integrated technology and hosting experiences (as opposed to sponsoring them). Optimizers utilize analytics to evaluate every facet of their events, such as the number of qualified leads, the number of leads in the sales pipeline, brand awareness, number of in-person attendees compared to registrants, and customer retention and loyalty.

The reason event optimizers can delve deeply into event analytics is that they stay up to date with the most recent event marketing technology and gather data from apps, RFID devices, websites, live polls, post-event surveys, and more. With this data, optimizers can clearly demonstrate an event’s impact, as well as what worked and what needs to be improved, which makes them more likely to achieve value from current and future events.

With the increased availability of data, 2020 will see more event optimizers emerge.

Experiential Continues to Shine

Humans are social animals. Yes, we get comfort from connecting with other people, but by engaging, we are also able to reinforce and better retain what we learn. By sharing and brainstorming ideas, attendees are more likely to find value in your event.

Experiential is evolving when it comes to events. Once relegated exclusively to the show floor, experiential elements will soon permeate all aspects of an event. Lectures will evolve into discussions. Educational sessions will become hands-on. Big conference rooms will become small breakout sessions where an intimate number of people can engage and debate ideas. Even large sessions will introduce participatory elements, likely utilizing the event app for real-time polling and question submissions.

People what to feel engaged and participate in the events they attend. 2020 will see an increased focus on integrating interaction and connectivity into events.

Really Green Events


Attendees are voting with their conscience and their dollars. More often than not, if an event does not align with an attendee’s beliefs, they will skip it for one that more in sync with their philosophies.

2020 will see more events going to extremes to reduce their environmental impact by dramatically reducing the waste sent to a landfill. This will take planning and forethought and means finding like-minded vendors.

Minimal and zero waste events are more complicated than creating a traditional event – which is already a lot of work. However, the environmental benefit and audience appreciation is worth the effort.

Hybrid Events

This focus on environmentalism may also lead to a segment of past attendees skipping an event, rather than travel and contribute to the event’s carbon footprint. This trend will see more planners converting previously analog experiences into hybrid events.

A hybrid event provides engaging content to two separate audiences: those attending in-person and those attending virtually. These virtual components are not an afterthought, nor are they explicitly an adaption from the live content. Instead, the virtual content is expressly designed to engage an online audience. The live and virtual content coexist, and an entertaining and captivating atmosphere is provided for both audiences.

There is always an audience segment that is interested in your event and content, but unlikely to attend in person. The fear for many event organizers is that a hybrid event will cause physical event attendance to decrease. However, it turns out there is almost no overlap between the people who want to attend your event and those who livestream it. In fact, once someone attends an event virtually, they are much more likely to appear at an upcoming show in-person.

2020 will see event planners creating content designed for mass consumption, whether that’s in-person or virtually.

Increased Focus on Security


The goal is to put on the best event possible, one where everybody gains something from the experience and leaves feeling enriched and happy. Unfortunately, there’s always a certain type of unscrupulous person who sees a crowd of people as an opportunity to cause harm and havoc. That’s why security and a focus on keeping everyone safe will continue to be a focus for all events.

Security also extends to the digital realm. Live events are a target for hackers because registration sites, event apps, and databases are full of information that nefarious individuals and organizations strive to acquire. Strengthening cybersecurity for events was a primary focus last year, and the year before that, and it will continue to be throughout the new decade.