Trendwatching: Trends for Events in 2021

We're in the midst of the Corona-crisis. But nevertheless Kevin is talking with trendwatcher Tom Palmaerts about the future for events in 2021.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Tom.

Hi Kevin.

We're in the midst of the Corona-crisis. But nevertheless we're going to talk about trends in events for 2021.

The first question I have: will there be events? It's kind of difficult to predict now.

Well, normally it's easier to say what's going to happen next year. Then to say something about the next ten years. But today it's more easy to talk about the next ten years then about next year.

It's really difficult. I'm not a scientist. I have no clue about how the virus can change and adapt.

For me, what's important is that we think about this as a marathon and not a sprint. When you see it as a sprint, when you see a Corona-virus as a sprint, then you wait until it's back to business as usual.

Yes, we're all waiting for the vaccine and then all will be solved.

And then it will all be solved. And hopefully it's next week.

That's why they talk about the V-curve. When there's a crisis, they hope that it's going to, immediately, pop back up again. And some say: no, it's going to be a U-curve. Like: it's going to take some more time, but eventually we'll go up again. Some talk about the W-curve. The W-curve...

Maybe this is happening now. It was almost perfect and then back again. And: go back up. That's the W-curve.

Now, whatever you think, what kind of curve it will be, eventually, we will go to: back to business. But it's going to take some time. So, please don't sit, today, in a sprint-mode. Where you wait or you just find solutions to survive. And, of course, some companies, some people...

Hey, you know, me too. You do act now just, only to survive. But, please, also take the time to think ahead. To think beyond your next day. To think beyond the survival of today. To think about the survival of the next five or ten years. And then we need to think about the marathon.

Take Corona and use it from the perspective of a marathon. It's not something that will be over tomorrow. So please, if you have a solution for your guests, let it be something that they want to do for the next year. If it's only something that they will do tomorrow, because they love you, but they will only do it once, then you will lose them the next day.

For me, a really good example is retail now. And I know the event industry, when you think about hygiene, the cleanness of stuff, everything needs to be clean. For the event industry but for retail as well.

But if you go to a retailer. If you go to a shop. The first thing you do when you enter a shop, is you need to clean, well, you wash your hands.

Yes, it's terrible.

It's terrible. It's not the hand sanitizer from home. Hand sanitizers from home, they smell great. But when you go to a shop, that smells horrible. Or you smell alcohol. Or you smell rotten eggs. It's terrible. So, if you just have to go to one shop, you'll survive it. But if you want to search for something nice, for you or your partner, or your children, you don't do two or three shops. After the second or the third shop, you just hate the smell. You just don't want to enter a shop anymore and then you'll buy stuff online.

Yes and the first reason you went out there was to have a good time, to have an experience.

Yes and shops, but also events...

You think about the smell of an event. You think about the sound of an event. You think about the hostess. And you think about the design. But the very first that people now see, feel...

Is the bottle of hand sanitizer.

Is the really, really bad sanitizer.

So, we have to think about this. And I know it's not easy to find a really well-oiled smell. But it is possible. And you should look further. Or, there are already droplets. So, you can drop a certain amount in your bottles. So, eventually, the smell is way better.

And maybe this is an opportunity. To think about the right smell for your event. Or the right smell for your restaurant. Or your shop.

Not only, we can have sommeliers. The person who chooses the right wine. We can also have some kind of semmelier. For the smell of your house. Of your event. Of your retail space. Or maybe of your office. I think hygiene...

When you think about beyond Corona. What will eventually stay here? The search for hygiene will stay. So, the solutions to find now...

Don't see it as a sprint, see it as a marathon. You'll have to use that stuff, for years now. So, please keep this in mind. Yes?

One of the trends you were talking about already in the past few years, when you were actually here in the studio, was everything regarding wellbeing. And I think that's a topic that, these days, gets even more important.

It's extremely important, Kevin. You know, when the lockdown came, wellbeing - because everybody was scared - immediately rose and became extremely important. And is, today still, important, but will become extremely important when we think about the winter. When everything gets darker. And colder.

What we saw during the first lockdown, was that people started nesting. And nesting means that we try to gather stuff around us, in our house, that is cosy. So, we stopped buying luxurious lingerie and we started buying pyjamas. And so, we wanted to have everything cosy, around us. To feel better.

Like, every time when there is a crisis, when there is some kind of a hiccup, when the world is changing, we search for cosiness. We search for warmth. Stability. And in the beginning it was at our home. Of course, you couldn't stay home. So, people started walking around. Running in the neighbourhoods. Cycling.

I think, whenever there's a big change, elements that are already there, but not entirely mainstream, sometimes get a boost. And, for instance, a lot of people in their forties a lot of men in their forties, they already bought a bike. Because that was hip and trendy to do. But now we actually are cycling.


Yes, we are actually using it.

We're doing it.

So, everybody started walking around. By the way, again, also youngsters. It started to become trendy to hike. Before Corona. So, whoom, it blew up now. Everybody's walking, everybody's cycling. Everybody's running. It's for our wellbeing. But my question is: what will happen when it gets colder? How will...

We found elements to get out. To energize us. I think being energized is going to be one of the key-questions. How to do that? How to keep our teams energized? How to keep myself energized? When you're inhouse. When it's cold outside and it's dark outside. If you think about your event. Now, you see, is...

Yes, the one meter and a half. But that's something you can think about. But most of the problems is entering the event. So, what we now see at events and also in retail stores: there's a giant queue. Everybody's waiting to go inside. We need to think about that. Because we're now waiting outside. That's not a problem. But will you wait outside when it's raining? When it's cold? Will you do this?

I don't think so. I see pictures of Americans waiting outside in lines. To buy guns. I think they'll keep on waiting in a line to buy a gun. And I think we, as Belgians, we probably will wait in line for French fries or something like that. But we're not going to wait outside just to buy some piece of clothing. Or for just an event. If it's not Tomorrowland, we're not going to wait outside. So, we see, this is going to have impact on us. So, we really need to start thinking about how to get people outside. How to help people in their wellbeing.

For instance, when you think about clothes, we're now having the masks. But, masks are good now. But what happens when it gets colder and we have... When we're completely surrounded by clothes? Are we going to wash our jackets every day? Because it surrounds us. No, we're not going to wash it. If you wash your jacket everyday it's probably going to be destroyed after seven days. So, we need to think about new types of textile. New types of clothes that are actually going to help us. To be able to find wellbeing. To be outside. To meet each other.

But just the fact...

You said: people are now going outside. And that's okay because it's summer. But in winter they won't be. Do you see an opportunity for the event industry, there? That they could organize whatever. To facilitate the wellbeing.

Yes, of course. Yes, of course.

I think, when you hear this story of people that get difficulty to go outside and wellbeing is a problem. Then I think about last year. Because last year, Kevin, we talked about loneliness. And that loneliness is going to be one of the key-problems the next ten or twenty years.

And the event industry has a very important role to play there. For this it's the same thing. Loneliness is going to rise. Wellbeing is going to...

Mental problems are going to rise.

So, there is the event industry. And you can bring people together. You can bring people...

You can mix it: online - offline. But you can bring people together. And even if it's only with ten people. Twenty people. Thirty people. Whatever. As long as you bring people together. That's what we need.

Because, when you start the lockdown, people suddenly found out that technology is interesting. So, they started to Skype. They started to Zoom. Teams. And so on and so on. We even...

With our colleagues, with our guests, with our family. We started to have Zoom-sessions. And a lot of brands and events jumped on this. To use Zoom as a way to bring people together. And it is fun. From a gimmick point of view.

But from a marathon point of view, a long term point of view, we need to be careful with this. Because we are creating Zoombies. And Zoombies is a combination of Zoom and zombies. It appears that when you look at Zoom and we have a meeting or an event that's Zoom, people feel unfocussed. People feel exhausted. And it appears that, from a psychological point of view, when you see someone through Zoom, but you don't feel the physical connection, that messes your head around. You feel exhausted. It is like you don't have connection and you're almost, kind of, negative. You don't feel happy with this. So, that's why people are getting unfocussed. Getting frustrated. Getting very, very tired of all those Zoom-meetings.

By the way, if you want to talk to someone and energize someone, don't put on a Zoom-meeting. Call. It appears that only voice has more emotional power. Than seeing someone through this system that we, Kevin, are now using. So, don't fall in the trap of the gimmick item of Zoom. You can use Zoom. From a figital point of view. Where you use the figital and digital and bring it together.

The best, the luxury, the thing that we need from a mental point of view, the connection. You can't create this through Zoom. You need to bring people together. But if you are a nerd.


If you like an experiment. And if you say like: I want to do something. I want to try stuff. Maybe for your next event, but bring it smaller...

Maybe for your next team event, like when you do something with your team, try Fortnite. Or Second Life. Second Life was popular ten years, fifteen years ago.

Does it still exist?

It still exists. And it has power to grow. Because it appears that...

And you see this with our children. When they play Fortnite. And they're with all those friends and they're talking, they're chatting and they're playing Fortnite. They don't get tired. And that's not an age issue. That's just because: it appears that, when you have a virtual figure, inside a game or a platform, it suddenly is not so tiresome. So, you keep on getting energized. So, your next management meeting or team meeting, do it inside Fortnite.

And don't shoot each other, then.

See what happens. And maybe you find ways to organize smaller events with guests. With a really good client. Just as an experiment. Just from a play-perspective.

Because maybe, Kevin, that's what we need to take out from this. Like, if you start thinking about Corona. Not from a sprint-vision, but from a marathon-vision. Where it's a long term vision. You need to start playing. You need to start experimenting. You can wait. But for what? Yes, eventually we're going to go back to business. Eventually events will rise again. And it will be, again, like the old times. Like pre-Corona. Of course.

After every crisis, every extreme crisis, we see that, after a certain time, we go back to business. When you think about 9/11: eventually we started flying again.

When you think about the financial crisis: eventually we're, again, taking our money to the banks.

So, eventually it's back to business. But things change. It's back to business, but there are things that changed. And those changes we find normal.

And it appears that, after extreme shock, when you change elements during that shock, people are fluent. They go with you. They go with the flow. And when it's back to business, those changes become the new normal. So, for instance, after 9/11: yes, business as usual. We started flying again. But the security is incredible. Before 9/11 you couldn't create this type of security. People would not like that.


But during that shock, you can change those elements. And now people are not surprised that they get completely checked out. Facial recognition and so on and so on.

So, what can this mean for the event industry? What are now the experiments? And I think: digital, of course, is number one.

But we've been talking about different trends over the past years, Kevin, together. Those trends, now you can play with this. Now you can change it.

When there's a client always saying: no, we can't choose sustainability. Now is the moment. If you believe in sustainability, that is your direction. Choose sustainability. Now is the moment to change this.

When you're fed up with all that cash. But your clients always say: no, cash is important and so on. Now is the moment to go to a cashless event. Now is the moment. Change this. When it's back to business, people won't want to go back. This is the new normal. So, now's the time to play. To experiment.

Hell, if you're really nerdy, go to blockchain. Blockchain is going through the roof. The past couple of months. There are so many really nice changes. Innovations. For entertainment business. In blockchain. If you're interested in this, take time. Play, now, with this. Because it's possible that, when everything goes back to business, that is going to be the new normal. So, you'd better be prepared. Don't...

It's okay to be in a survival mode. I'm also in survival mode. I'm also trying to survive the next day. And trying to find new clients. And it is terrible. For September, the entire month was fully booked. With lectures. With events. And every day I have cancellations. So, it's normal to be in this, kind of, survival mode.

But take your time. Take your time to also think beyond Corona. And try to experiment. Try to play.

You know cleanness is an issue. Play with it, experiment with it.

You know that connection, loneliness, mental wellbeing is a problem.

Play. Find solutions. Try stuff. Now is the time to experiment. And when we go back to business, then you can grow really, really fast. Because you know how it works.

Yes, I really like the positive idea of now being the time to reinvent the event industry of tomorrow.

And take your advantage of that.

Tom, thank you very much for sharing these insights with us.

You're welcome As always, Kevin.

And you, at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.