CEOs of largest companies hungry for in-person events in 2021, says Bloomberg chief: Business Extra podcast

Exclusive: Justin Smith finds 'strong appetite' for attending conferences in last quarter of the year after Covid-19 disruption meant that almost all events were held online

The chief executives of the world’s largest companies are showing a “strong appetite” for in-person conferences taking place in the final three months of the year.

Justin B Smith, chief executive of Bloomberg Media, which organises hundreds of events a year, said the company has "identified a very, very strong appetite for engaging in person again" after a period of mostly online-only conferences amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I must have spoken with at least at least 100 fortune 500 CEOs across the last couple of months and I would say more than a very, very high percentage have indicated that they are itching to get out into the world again in person [and] that the fourth quarter of 2021 feels like the right time frame," said Mr Smith, speaking exclusively to The National in an interview for its Business Extra podcast.

Mr Smith said that chief executives he had spoken to also showed interest in smaller gatherings, "with public safety protocols prioritised above everything else”.

Bloomberg will host the fourth New Economy Forum as an in-person event in Singapore in November.

Topics such as the pandemic and public health, climate change, cities, finance and trade will dominate the agenda.

"And, of course, climate and the implementation, next step type of conversations coming out of [Cop26 in] Glasgow, I think are going to be a very, very important priority for the agenda in Singapore in November," he said.

Mr Smith said that the experience of the pandemic helped Bloomberg to quickly change how it organises events.

“We shifted gears very rapidly and moved to a sort of very fast test-and-learn approach with virtual convening and began moving, well actually, all of our convenings online. We did nothing in person for the whole of 2020.”

The 2020 New Economy Forum was held online and was “exciting and challenging, and ultimately rewarding" because it was able to reach a larger audience than if it had been an in-person conference.

“The project actually, in some sense, was enhanced and was broadened because of the power of digital distribution, for virtual content, because we ended up streaming as much of the conversations, if not all the conversations,” said Mr Smith.

On Monday, the World Economic Forum cancelled plans to host its annual meeting in Singapore in August.

"The tragic circumstances unfolding across geographies, an uncertain travel outlook, differing speeds of vaccination rollout make it impossible," the forum said.

"It was a difficult decision, particularly in view of the great interest of our partners to come together not just virtually but in person,” said Professor Klaus Schwab, the forum's founder and executive chairman. “But ultimately, the health and safety of everyone concerned is our highest priority.”