The wrap on the world of events in 2021

Post by 
Elton Lee Hesketh
June 30, 2021

After 18 months of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the global events and exhibitions industry has had some time to experiment and adapt their strategies – and things are looking up. Surveys suggest that by the last quarter of 2021, most people will be comfortable attending in-person events if safety precautions are taken and numbers are controlled.  

Vaccine distribution, a decrease in COVID-19 infections and the relaxation of restrictions on the size of gatherings could entice a sooner return to more – and bigger – in-person events. As some countries battle new waves of coronavirus outbreaks and impose constraints on travel and gatherings, others are easing their restrictions and are allowing vaccinated travellers. 

Virtual and hybrid are scaling

With a mixed bag like this, and while many remain reluctant to travel because of the time and cost impracticalities of mandatory quarantine periods, virtual and hybrid events with satellite in-person experiences characterise the events and expos’ landscape in 2021. 

They’re keeping events ticking and growing...


Going fully digital for the first time this year, the London Wine Fair drew 2 608 visitors, with 238 virtual stands showing over 3 435 different products from 33 different countries. It was fully interactive, with a digital platform supporting 121 meetings, group meetings, Tasting Masterclasses and industry briefings which allowed for interaction between exhibitors and visitors.


In January, the Professional Convention Management Association’s (PCMA) Convening Leaders had over 3 000 people attending online and in-person in several hub cities. A highlight was a musical performance attended by 300 people which was livestreamed from Singapore, as well as in-person experiences in Las Vegas to name a few. 


The Christian conference, Empower21 had over 100 000 participants from over 197 countries in February. Attendees could attend in-person in Texas or online with the same access to the event platform and agendas, as well as the ability to interact with each other. 

The world’s leading travel trade show, ITB Berlin was an entirely virtual event, attracting some 67 500 attendees but hopes are pinned on hosting it in-person in March 2022. Read about How to merge the digital and in-person experience at hybrid events 

Online events dominate

Most events have pivoted to virtual or hybrid formats, including Advertising Week, the world’s most popular gathering of marketing and communications leaders. With 98 000 attendees and over 1200 speakers, the four-day hybrid event features seminars and workshops, crossing the globe with events in London, Tokyo, Mexico City, Sydney, and Johannesburg

Africa’s Big 7, the continent’s largest annual meeting for the food and beverage industry, will also be a hybrid event with online elements as well as in-person activities in Johannesburg from 23 to 25 August. 

HubSpot's Inbound goes virtual, bringing together thousands of marketing and sales professionals from around the globe for four days, featuring over 200 educational breakout sessions and the chance to connect with 26 000 as well as industry experts.

Dubai is deemed expo-safe

In independent research commissioned by Dubai World Trade Centre, 89% of respondents dubbed Dubai as “the safest destination in the world.” Over the past nine months, the UAE has successfully hosted a number of large-scale exhibitions including GITEX Technology Week, Gulfood and Arabian Travel Market to the highest possible safety standards.

In October, it’s Expo 2020 Dubai, the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, and the largest event ever held in the Arab world. With 190 countries participating and an estimated 25-million visitors expected over six months, it is also the biggest international event to rise from the desolation of rolling lockdowns and travel restrictions that have subdued countries worldwide since the start of the pandemic. 

Live events live

In-person trade shows, expos and conferences began to reemerge as countries and regions started to loosen the caps on the size of mass gatherings, proving that it is possible to stage successful and safe in-person events. California-based destination management company, Destination Concepts, hosted nearly 20 in-person events in the United States in 2020, and has more than 40 planned for this year. 

A ranking of the world’s Top 100 Events for 2021 shows a healthy-looking calendar of conferences, trade shows and exhibitions in 2021. Some are steaming ahead as in-person events, such as such as Magic Las Vegas, which has over 20 000 people indicating that they will attend the fashion trade event at the Las Vegas Convention Centre in August. 

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Convention, an in-person event in Orlando, Florida in November, is anticipated to bring together over 9 000 members and 7 000 attendees to meet, engage, and discover new products and technologies set to alter the business travel landscape.

Should you have an event in 2021?

Yes! If you want to go big, focus your energy on refining a virtual or hybrid event strategy that delivers an immersive experience that is big on communication, personalisation and engagement. Considering an in-person event? Think smaller gatherings and micro, hyper-local experiences that emphasise safety, efficiency and transparency. 

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At The Event Production Company, we eat, sleep and breathe events! Since 1993, we have been producing in-person, virtual and hybrid events that deliver cohesive and enticing experiences. Book a free, 30-minute session with us to discuss your vision.

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