by Julie Barker | December 01, 2016
Confidence has been rising within the meetings industry, with people across the spectrum of industry stakeholders telling us that 2016 was a record year. But what will 2017 bring? We asked a number of those included in this year's list of Successful Meetings' 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry to tell us what they foresee. These individuals have their fingers on the pulse of meetings and events, destinations, hotel groups, and industry coalitions. We introduced them to readers earlier this year on our annual list of industry influencers. Now, see what they have to say about the year ahead.

Transformation Tipping Point
"We are really at a dynamic inflection point in global meetings," says Matthias Schultze, managing director, German Convention Bureau (GCB). He says that technology, the sharing economy, and Millennials entering leadership positions are creating a transformative force. Technology is facilitating deeper "knowledge sharing, expertise exchange, and networking," he says, but planners can't tap the best of technology unless the destinations and venues they seek to use supply the required infrastructure.

Aware of this, the GCB has partnered with the Fraunhofer Institute and European Association of Event Centres to create the tools and resources needed at this moment of change. Planners can use the GCB's Innovation Catalog, Future Meetings Scenarios, and descriptions of the Future Meeting Room on the GCB's website to "get their arms around meeting technology and how it can be employed, to extend delegate learning and experience quality, whether a meeting is large or small, 100 percent face-to-face, or hybrid," says Schultze.

Another forecaster who sees the industry at a pivotal juncture is Nan Marchand Beauvois, vice president, National Councils, and general manager, ESTO, U.S. Travel Association. She says, "One of the biggest trends we are seeing in the meetings industry is the extension of meetings beyond the walls of the event space. Greater emphasis is placed on building momentum before meetings through social media and event apps, as well as in follow-up contact, which can build powerful business relationships."

Technological tools are facilitating broad change in the industry, but because our smartphones and apps are so much a part of our lives, it's sometimes difficult to see them as the transformative forces they are in the world of meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions. For instance, apps help seal deals; they are not the antithesis of face-to-face meetings, they are a facilitating tool, and they will become critical elements of MICE events, if not this year then soon, several forecasters suggested. Members of the younger demographic, who are taking more and more prominent roles at meetings and in organizations, understand this. Millennials, some of whom are now in their mid-30s, build relationships using their keyboards and cameras.

"We will all need to be nimble to accommodate what they want, balanced against more traditional meeting requirements," says Richard Gray, managing director LGBTQ market, Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB (GFLCVB), adding, with Millennials, "there's an emphasis placed on doing business through different technology platforms, an expectation to have speedy access, and increased interest in conducting meetings virtually."

Designing Events
Experiential meeting design is going to become "a commonplace element of many meeting agendas," says Brian King, global officer, digital, distribution, revenue management and global sales for Marriott International. He goes so far as to predict that experiential design will "reach a tipping point in 2017." Research showing that the meeting space itself influences retention and that more memorable or inspirational settings actually boost learning underpins this trend. But another driver is the Millennial generation, whose members generally want experiences that are authentic.

Similar to the trend King cites is one noticed by Carina Bauer, CEO, IMEX Group, who puts on two global trade shows in the meetings/events sector. She says personalization will continue to grow in importance. Planners will need to "make sure everyone has their chosen experience within the larger event." To this end, you can "tailor the messaging and information" that you give to individual attendees. The data you collect on attendees' past choices can help you do this for future meetings, which "ultimately makes the events more successful," Bauer points out.

Another aspect of the personalization trend is helping your attendees "find their tribe" -- that is, find the people at the event who are going to be their best matches from a business or personal perspective. Bauer says the two sides of personalization "play together." In effect, this trend is about "how do you break everything down for attendees so [your event is] more navigable for them?"

Watch for Apple's iBeacon and similar technology, which "allows meeting planners and vendors to send push notifications to mobile devices in close proximity," to transform the meetings industry, says Marchand Beauvois, by making events and conferences more personalized than ever before. "It's being used in many capacities in the industry, including attracting attendees to conference booths, and letting attendees know about upcoming speakers."

And look to CVBs as partners who can help "leverage local industry expertise in destinations," says Schultze of the GCB. "Delegates want knowledge and insights they can bring back to the office," such as that available in leading research centers, from professors, business community leaders, and others, he says. Meeting-goers coming to Stuttgart, for example, can learn about automotive innovation at the source (Porsche and Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz and Smart, and are both located here). And in Nuremberg and Leipzig, they can tap into the expertise of those creating medical breakthroughs. "We think the demand for that level of learning and content value will become more mainstream in 2017 and beyond."

George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, describes a yearning for deeper experiences on the part of meeting-goers.  "[Meeting attendees] want their time outside the office to not only include education and networking but they want to make a unique connection to the local market," he says. "For us, it's an exciting opportunity to … offer unique-to-our-destination events, tours, and activities."