The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry for 2016: The Game Changers

top 25 people in meetings industry 2016

Game changers have new and different ideas that stand out from the crowd. These individuals have ideas that completely change the way an industry develops. These influencers are each doing that in their own areas of the meetings industry. (View the full "25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry for 2016" here.)

Chris Kelly
, president and co-founder of Convene

There's nothing new about the concept of a day conference center. But Chris Kelly, with business partner Ryan Simonetti, has taken that concept and turned it into a platform for advancing the experiential meeting facility. 

Convene day centers have created the template for successfully combining technology, production, and human-centered design to offer a transformative attendee experience distinct from the traditional hotel or conference center venue. "Most venues don't appreciate the underlying business reasons for why meetings are hosted to begin with," says Kelly. "Our concept recognizes the reality that it is possible to offer professional meeting facilities and hospitality anywhere -- even in an office building." 

More than 65 percent of Fortune 100 companies use Convene facilities for all types of meetings and events, hosting more than 150,000 participants each year. Right now, Convene has 10 facilities at locations along the East Coast, with five more in development. Kelly and his team have just received a second round of investment funding, and that will help the organization expand into more places -- and expand its impact on how attendees will meet in the future. 

Dan Berger
, founder, CEO of Social Tables

Part of the new generation of industry leaders, Dan Berger's product is deceptively simple and solidly grounded in business acumen and service to the profession. That's why it is having such a huge impact. The company has surpassed one million events this year and offers planners the opportunity to do virtual site inspections of over 1.5 billion square feet of meeting and event space.

Social Tables facilitates the process of setting up and managing banquets, including features that show waitstaff the location of VIPs and people with food allergies, as well as a 3D tours of room setups from actual venues.

"We're seeing a shift in the way planners view technology," says Berger. "It's gone from being something tacked on to the end of the planning process to an agenda item that's part of the conversation from the very start."

As technology continues to impact the way meetings are planned and executed, Berger's approach shows others the way to package technology for the meetings market: no matter how complex the back-end systems might be, make sure the front end is easy to use -- and helps make a tough job easier. 

Robert Khoo
, former president of operations and business development for Penny Arcade and show director of PAX

What started as a gathering of about 4,500 gamers in Bellevue, WA, a dozen years ago has turned into a multi-country event drawing upward of 70,000 attendees. And this event is just the tip of the iceberg. For a category that barely existed a decade ago, gamer-oriented gatherings are poised to have a big impact on the availability of rooms and meeting space. Gamer events are popping up all over the country, gobbling up room nights and meeting space (which most of them pay for). 

Robert Khoo and the PAX team have moved quickly to meet the fast-growing demands of the gamer market, developing a series of high-profile, high-attendance pop-culture conventions, featuring live concerts, a bracket-style Omegathon tournament, a lounge of hundreds of beanbag chairs for attendees to relax in while playing their handheld devices, and an easy console-checkout system for attendees to try out the latest games. Last year saw the premiere of PAX South in San Antonio, TX, which joins PAX West in Seattle, PAX East in Boston, and PAX Australia in Melbourne.

Danielle Bishop
, president of HB Hospitality


For independent hoteliers, it's always been a challenge to match the sales and marketing muscle of the big chains. With all the mega-mergers taking place in the hospitality space recently, it has become even more difficult for the independents to stay competitive. 

"It's important that independent hotels and resorts have a place to connect with qualified, sophisticated buyers in a market that is increasingly dominated by major hotel chains," says Danielle Bishop. 

Bishop's company, HB Hospitality, has created a new and innovative marketing model for independent resorts, hotels, and hospitality partners. It's a unique event platform that enables resorts and hotels to step out of the shadow of the big chains and partner together to network with planners and deliver marketing messages that effectively reach the meetings market. Bishop's company also plans to launch an online community, The Hive, that will allow meeting planners to send commission-free leads directly to HB's member hotels. It's a great idea that helps a segment of the industry stay in the game and even succeed against what are becoming increasingly enormous odds. 

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This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.