by Alex Palmer | December 04, 2017

What does the future hold? No one can truly predict what exactly will happen in the year to come, including what events and trends will shape meetings, but those with their fingers on the industry's pulse can make some well-educated guesses. That is why, as we move toward the end of 2017, Successful Meetings reached out to several of the honorees from this year's list of the 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry to get their takes on what we might expect to see in the year ahead.

Security, cost considerations, and a greater importance placed on experiential aspects of events were among the themes identified by our expert sources. Here they discuss the major trends planners should look for in the year to come -- and how to prepare for the turning tides.


Security Concerns
This was a particularly disruptive year, from mass shootings and terrorist attacks putting every major city on alert to the damage wrought by hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and more. With this in mind, safety and security looks likely to only grow as an issue with which planners must contend.

JESSIE STATES
Meeting Professionals International

"From the attack on our sister industry [festivals] in Las Vegas to the vehicular violence in New York City, event organizers are realizing the profound plausibility that terrorism is an increasing player in the management of attendee safety," says Jessie States, CMM, manager of professional development for Meeting Professionals International (MPI). "Meeting professionals design events that drive business value and create behavior change, that have huge impacts on the global economy and corporate bottom lines. But the No. 1 job of our industry isn't related to the balance sheet; it's duty of care for attendees, from doorstep to doorstep."

She emphasizes that "it's not just terrorism" and that security concerns now also include extreme weather events, protests, and labor strikes throughout the world. States adds that alongside these remain the threats we've always faced: medical emergencies, transportation closures, airborne and waterborne diseases, among them.

"All of these things factor into the creation, curation, and activation of risk and safety management plans," says States.

Jennifer Patino, DMCP, CEO of Hosts Global, expects to see security considerations move higher on planners' lists when selecting destinations for their groups.

"Choosing locations that have a strong economic climate, and a stable infrastructure and government are more important than ever before," she says. "Travel bans, safety concerns, or instability in destinations is a very strong consideration for planners, so working with CVBs, hotels, and DMCs that are prepared and have plans in place to limit this risk will be crucial to planners."

Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, adds that the industry is likely to see closer involvement between planners and convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs).

"Convention bureaus are having to be much more involved on contingency and crisis planning the last couple years than they've ever had to be," says Welsh. "When a planner is planning a meeting, they now have to sit down with the destination and say, 'If this happens, what takes place with my meeting? How do we evacuate? How do we make sure my people are safe?' We used to talk about all those communications on the surface years ago, but now it's got to be of paramount concern."

CARINA BAUER
IMEX Group

Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, expects to see an expansion of industrywide efforts to address these security concerns.

"Earlier in 2017, I said that security was one of the greatest challenges of our time and that it was vital for the industry to come together on this issue around the [Exhibitions and Meetings Safety and Security] initiative, which I hope will become a global initiative in time," says Bauer. "Sadly, subsequent events have brought the industry very much together, notably at IMEX America 2017, and reinforced the need for vigilance, resilience, unity, and globally recognized and agreed-upon standards."

Amanda Armstrong, CMP, director of corporate travel and meetings for Enterprise Holdings Inc., as well as chair-elect of MPI, adds that these efforts will also become a greater concern for not only planners, but hoteliers, convention centers, and those managing meeting spaces.

"Venues and meeting planners need to be trained on emergency protocol within their events," she says. "And, most importantly, they need to practice the process before they need to use it."


Digital Security
Of course, security also refers to the safety and protection of not just people, but sensitive information.

"I think one of the biggest things we will be addressing is the rise of data, how we collect it, and, most importantly, how we can protect it," says David Peckinpaugh, CMP, CIS, president, Maritz Global Events and chair-elect of PCMA Education Foundation board of trustees. "I believe the protection of [personally identifiable information] and general data will hit an all-time high and will be something that has to be addressed within our industry. In order to get ahead of this, we need to better educate ourselves on what is happening with data, what is in the works, and how we need to react."

He points to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), set to go into effect on May 25 of next year, which the European Parliament, European Commission, and Council of the European Union will use to strengthen data protection throughout the EU. According to Peckinpaugh, it "is going to have a major impact on how our industry manages data."  

ONI CHUKWU
etouches

Oni Chukwu, CEO of etouches, says that his company has made data privacy a priority in its products and that emphasizing this offering will only become more important in the coming year.

"Data privacy will continue to be a chief concern for all industries today, as we witness the crippling effects security breaches can have on business, politics, and personal lives," says Chukwu. "It's incumbent upon technology providers to rise to the occasion and mitigate risk."


Enhancing the Experience
The buzzword "experiential" was everywhere in 2017, with planners putting a premium on making events, training, and meetings interactive and as engaging as possible. That looks as if it might only become more important in 2018, according to the experts with whom we spoke, who emphasize that experiential offerings are only going to get bigger.

"It is no longer enough to take a group to a destination and set up a typical itinerary with activities, such as a wine tasting, that they could easily do on their own or in a different destination," says Natasha Syed, director of global conference and incentive sales for Rocco Forte Hotels and vice president of Young Leaders/Event Liaison for SITE Texas. "We need to develop more meaning behind our itineraries and offerings, such as a unique overarching theme of the trip, community service aspects, or a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they could not have access to if they visited the destination on their own."

She adds that the growing influence of Millennials is helping to drive this focus on experience, particularly when it comes to incentive travel and ensuring that outings are "social-media-worthy."

"Experience is the new status symbol," says Syed.

Patino agrees, and, as she puts it, "Attendees don't just want to eat the food and drink the cocktails, they want to be part of making them. The decor is interactive, the entertainment isn't just on stage but immersed in the room being part of the meeting and events and being fully engaged in the experience is increasingly important, especially amongst the younger attendees."

Part of making an event truly experiential is enhancing the technology tools, Patino adds, emphasizing that attendees are likely to expect meetings tech to keep up with their needs, with more intuitive apps for wayfinding, and that encourage selfies, social media sharing, and other peer-to-peer interaction.

More broadly, Chukwu expects that enhancing the attendee experience will only grow in importance over the next year. He points to etouches' survey of event professionals, which found that 48 percent believe attendee satisfaction is the single most important indicator of success.

"Planners consistently tell us the attendee experience will be top of mind when determining where to make cuts and shift spend," says Chukwu.

This is particularly important for associations and other event producers that rely upon the revenue produced by these gatherings, says Amy Ledoux, CAE, CMP, senior vice president, meetings and expositions for the American Society of Association Executives. In most cases, potential attendees "have options to consume content and engage in other forums that may be meeting their needs better and faster," she says, adding that conferences and events that don't stay relevant and exciting won't stay in existence. "It is important to re-evaluate all your meetings and events and see what is resonating and what is not," Ledoux adds. "It is critical to look at those meetings and events that are mature or on the decline and reimagine them or replace them with a new event that delivers what your members want and need."

This experiential approach extends to the venue itself -- and is likely to continue shaping how venues are configured in the years ahead.

STEVE GOODLING
Long Beach Area Convention
& Visitors Bureau

"There's a real challenge now for planners to find a destination and a venue that's going to satisfy the needs of Millennial attendees -- a space that's organic, creative, that's real, and permits them to network," says Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area CVB. "This is a generation that was raised on Starbucks-type environments. They're used to communal tables and creating pockets within public spaces, not long, sterile corridors."

That has been the vision of the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, which earlier this year unveiled The Cove multipurpose space offering an environment likened to a street party, as well as the elevated pedestrian walkway of the Rainbow Bridge. "The place is like the Rockefeller Plaza now," says Goodling.