2016 was no slouch of a year for the meetings industry nor, indeed, for the world at large. Dramatic forces were at play and many of us shared a sense that, even if we wanted to grasp the pace or nature of change taking place, we barely had the time or the head space to do so. 2016 was pivotal – and it felt like it.
Looking ahead to 2017, IMEX has identified five trends which, starting at A and ending at Z, are anything but simple or linear in the impact they’ll have on the meetings and events industry. In fact, we already predict that by 2018 ‘clarity’ will be the watchword of the moment.
AI & VR
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) used to be the future. Then, over the last two years, the first VR headsets started to appear at IMEX (Frankfurt and America), with destinations and venues as the ‘early adopters’. By the end of 2016, both technologies had made the final transition from fringe to freely available. The future had arrived.
Grip, the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) event networking solution won the #IMEXpitch at IMEX America in Las Vegas. Elsewhere, at IBM’s World of Watson conference, AI was the ‘driver’ of a 3D-printed, driverless minibus that toured the show floor, giving passengers restaurant recommendations.
In the world of virtual reality, WorldViz, a behind-the-scenes VR company that’s been working on large-scale, enterprise solutions, launched its new platform for business communication. The project, codenamed “Skofield”, allows remote users to make cross-platform presentations in VR.
Both AI and VR offer exciting new frontiers for suppliers in the meetings and events industry. Expect AI, and especially VR (not forgetting Augmented Reality), to capture both the imagination and the headlines in 2017.
One of the challenges of being at a large business event is the lingering sense that there are potential (and great) new contacts all around. But do we all identify, locate and then meet those new contacts? The rise of social media but, more importantly, of networking technologies and apps is fast changing our ability to satisfy that need. This urge to find and connect with ‘the right kind’ of each other at live events is what IMEX calls ‘finding your tribe.’
This trend is about both targeting and personalisation. Witness Loopd, winners of the 2015 IMEXpitch and (once again) Grip, the 2016 IMEXpitch winners. Equally, Zenvoy, partnered with IMEX to provide a pre, during and post-show ‘match-making’ service for buyers/attendees to meet or work with each other; a natural add-on to the show’s core appointment system, which enables buyers to meet with exhibitors.
Witness too the rise of snapchat and private messaging. Many of the big conversations at shows, conferences and other events are now happening online – and in private. Where social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram bring the immediate show experience – and audience feedback – to life in a dynamic way (especially with the advent of Facebook Live), Snapchat and private messaging services allow sub-groups and ‘tribes’ to find each other, talk and make plans in private.
As many of these tech-connecting services race to become the favourite, go-to brand of the moment, expect to see some triumph and scale up to great acclaim, while others simply don’t – or can’t – keep pace.
‘Are PCOs and hotels prepared to manage the increasing disruption and challenges in accommodation services for international meetings?’ was the title of a hot-topic discussion at ICCA’s recent Conference in Kuching, Malaysia.
‘Increasing disruption’ aptly sums up the prevalence of disruptive forces not only in the meetings and events industry but also all around us. The ICCA discussion focussed on the impact of booking portals and event scammers with fake websites but Airbnb has similar potential to disrupt the traditional meetings space market.
‘Disruption’ could easily lay claim to being THE word of 2016. Dr Kaihan Krippendorff’s PCMA Business School session at IMEX in Frankfurt – ‘The Outthinker Playbook – Devising Disruptive Strategies’ drew a large and eager audience, as did Jay Samit’s presentation ‘Disrupt You!’ at IMEX America 2016.
‘Disruption’ also describes the impact of unexpected political results in 2016 – namely Brexit and the U.S. Presidential election. Even though the fallout has so far been short-term, most organisations (in all industries worldwide) are on alert for the long-term consequences. Harking back to a favoured phrase from five or six years ago, 2017 heralds a sense that ‘disruption’ is set to be the ‘new normal’.
Last year at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference, Professor Sir Cary Cooper said a compulsion to deal with messages caused UK employees to become less productive than many of their international counterparts.
“For people to be working at night, weekends and holiday on emails is not good for the health of our country,” he told the BBC. “We need to ban emails [sent and received] within the same building,” he said, advocating instead for face-to-face meetings and phone calls.
Independent research by Atos Origin highlighted that the average employee spends 40% of their working week dealing with internal emails which add no value to the business.
Add to that newsletters, social media notifications and e-shots and it’s clear to see why many people are eager to seize back their time. In effect, this trend is a flight towards more authentic and meaningful productivity.
Expect unsubscribes and opt-outs to rise as individuals reclaim their inboxes, their sanity and their time.
In turn, the purposeful creation and appreciation of ‘no-thing’ time (using planning approaches such as White Space) will win more and more fans in 2017.
Workplace demographic shifts really gathered pace in 2016, with Generation Z now heading over the horizon. By the end of this decade Zs will account for around 20 per cent of the work force.
Born in the late 1990s onwards, Zs were the first to grow up with the Internet and portable technology at their fingertips, virtually from birth! According to various research reports, compared with those born in the 15 or so years before them – Generation Y, the Millennials – they are distinctly different (hence their disparaging, alternative label, ‘Generation Snowflake’…because every little snowflake is unique).
From a communications and meetings perspective, Zs are tech-intuitive, tech-based multi-taskers and good at online collaboration but tend to have weaker face-to-face and social skills, are liable to be distracted easily and have a short attention span.
According to the 2015 Way to Work survey by Adecco Staffing USA, as employees Zs want financial stability (a result of living through recession and the burden of student debt), a dream job, entrepreneurial opportunities, a flexible work-life balance, regular face-to-face mentoring and plenty of feedback from the boss. In pursuit of this they’re likely to job-hop in their early years.
As an event or meetings audience Zs are set to place strong, new demands on planners, venues and brands. Whether they prove to be high value or just high maintenance, 2017 should reveal all.