by Alex Palmer | December 04, 2017

Rise of the Machines
The gathering and utilization of data about attendee preferences and behavior looks likely to only gain in importance in the year ahead. Chukwu points to the likely growth of wearable technology and "a new generation of smart badges" that can "serve as an event registration tool, while also improving the attendee experience and capturing key ROI metrics."
More broadly, technology continues to make a major impact on meetings and events and how they are run. With the numerous acquisitions happening in meetings-tech organizations, the integration of event technology has been a major topic over the past year and will likely become more so in the months to come.

"Our industry has reached a level of sophistication where it demands comprehensive, end-to-end solutions," says Chukwu. "Event professionals no longer need to complicate the process, using separate solutions to manage different aspects of their events. They now have end-to-end solutions to support the entire event lifecycle. This makes meetings and events easier to manage and more effective for all parties -- participants, planners, and sponsors." He gives a plug to etouches' newly integrated Venue Sourcing, which automatically captures and centralizes sourcing data companywide.

MPI's States sees automation as a significant opportunity as well as a potential threat for the meeting profession.

"If we don't address technology, the onset of artificial intelligence, and its impact on our day-to-day business, we may find ourselves victim to the obsolescence that has consumed so many industries before us," she suggests. "In the near term, automation will continue to create efficiencies for meeting professionals, freeing them up for the loftier roles of strategy and creative design."

In the longer term, she expects this same automation will take over many of the logistical tasks that define the current meeting professional role: Algorithms will be able to select destinations or properties based on set needs; machines will be able to design menus based on the dietary requests of attendees; areas such as scheduling meetings, creating registration sites, and booking rooms will all shift to an automated process.

While all that is probably not happening in 2018, States does emphasize that next year will be an opportunity for planners to review their roles. "It is now more important than ever for meeting professionals to define their roles based on business value, strategic design, and ROI, not coffee cups and room capacities," says States.

On the A/V front, Goodling expects to see the production quality of the general session extending to breakout rooms. For example, the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center has moved LED lighting into breakout spaces.

"It gives it kind of a party feeling and a feeling that something cool is going to happen here," says Goodling. "It feels like it's an alive space -- it helps with the attention span, reducing nodding off."

Cost Pressures Continue

Watching the bottom line is a perennial goal for organizations and meeting planners, but the experts we spoke with expect to see a greater focus on strategic spending.

"Managing meeting spend more strategically will be a priority, with the goal of improving business outcomes [including] a heightened focus on event value and ROI," says Chukwu. "Companies spend 25 to 30 percent of their entire marketing budget on meetings and events for a total spend of $565 billion per year globally. Yet historically they have been unable to measure the impact of this investment. With other marketing channels now highly measurable, the pressure is on to make a data-driven case for the return on investment on this significant spend."

These financial considerations will affect many aspects of events, especially destination selection.

"Choosing destinations that offer value in hotel rooms and airlift is always important, but also destinations that offer flexibility in meeting space and offer many options for attendees," Patino says. "Hotel and airfare costs are rising, however the overall allotted budget for a program is not."

She expects that will mean that planners will be looking for innovative, cost-effective solutions to provide "the wow factor" attendees seek.

Welsh agrees that budget considerations will play a greater role in the selection of a destination, ensuring that it "aligns with the business objectives" of the organization. Beyond that, site selection will be as much about ensuring that attendees are getting as possible out of the events they attend.

"The cost/benefit continues to be weighed -- we want people to walk out and say, 'That meeting can be justified from an expense standpoint' because of what they come away with," says Welsh. "It's about ensuring the price/value not only for the association or the event planner, but the value for the price the attendee is going to spend."

Diversity on the Agenda

Bauer points to the enthusiastic response IMEX had to a joint research project undertaken with Germany-based MICE magazine tw tagungswirtschaft as well as enormously positive reactions to Women in Leadership receptions that took place at IMEX shows in 2017. In collaboration with tw, IMEX has launched the first "She Means Business" Conference, taking place on EduMonday (the day prior to IMEX Frankfurt 2018).

"With a series of inspiring speakers, it's an event that is set to celebrate the role of women in the industry, as well as providing conversation, collaboration, and learning," says Bauer. "We at IMEX have experienced the rising importance of diversity in the industry, particularly around women in the workplace and career advancement."

David Jefferys, president and CEO of the Altus Agency; founder and executive director of the LGBT Meeting Professionals Association, agrees.

"Diversity and inclusion goals will become the new normal for all meetings and events," he says. "Two facts are exciting to us: the recent, immediate reactions of organizations to laws restricting freedom of transgender individuals and the growth of our industry."

On the first fact, he points to U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reporting 10 percent growth in the employment of meeting, event, and convention planners expected between 2014 and 2024 -- faster than the average for all occupations. On the second fact, he references the immediate business reactions to laws restricting the freedom of transgender individuals, such as the North Carolina "bathroom bill" that has now been rescinded.

"It makes it clear that LGBT inclusivity is not only the right thing to do, but the right thing for business," says Jefferys. "These two facts are exciting and are having an immediate impact on the industry. We have the opportunity to make an actual difference in the experience of all meeting and event participants."

Questions or comments? Email [email protected] Vincent Alonzo and Leo Jakobson contributed reporting on this story.

This article appears in the December 2017 issue of Successful Meetings.