A Look into the Future: Trends and Developments of the Meetings and Events Industry

This post is my submission for the IMEX Power Of 10 Student Essay Competition

The meetings and events industry will not be the same in ten years time. The quickly growing Asian market, people’s thirst for experience rich trips, business and leisure, and the unbelievable speed with which new technologies evolve will change the meeting, as we know it. The process of professionalization of the events management profession accompanies these developments, which is necessary, as new challenges such as terrorism or higher expectations demand a higher degree of expertise.

The first world fair took place in the late 19th century in London, which is also when the first professional associations where founded. The meetings and events industry has changed and evolved evermore since then. In the following the economic, social and technological trends will be discussed and why we will still be meeting in ten years time.

The current economic climate is rather unstable. Numerous case studies and journal articles written before 2007 dealing with the economic trends of the next five years are now out-dated as the financial crisis caused an eruption in the world’s stock markets that put the world’s economies to the test. Countries such as Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy and even the USA were and still are facing huge financial challenges. However, in the long run the credit crunch will be just a small dip in the world’s constantly increasing GDP. According to a study by Yeoman (2008) the global GDP will rise by 129% until 2030 indicating that people will generally earn more rather than less money, however, this trend is predominantly caused by the thriving economies of China and India and the fact that, also in western societies, the gap between rich and poor is growing.

As for any other industry these dramatic economic changes imply challenges as well as opportunities for the industry. The Asian market has to offer new destinations for events and conferences. If in the 20th century tourism between Europe and the US was increasing, the 21st century will be coined by increasing traffic between West and East. The economic advancement in the East will result in the professionalization of their meeting facilities. If in addition to that air travel becomes more efficient and affordable, which is likely, a four-day business conference in Beijing, Tokyo or New Delhi instead of Paris, Budapest or Berlin might become reality. Not only will we have to adapt to the business culture and etiquette of these new destination, but also visitors from Asia traveling to Europe and the USA will influence our culture.

A study by Mair and Thompson (2009) has found that location, networking and cost are the top three factors motivating professionals to attend conferences and conventions. Their research shows that between 1985 and 2007 this has not changed significantly; which allows us to assume that these factors will still be relevant in ten to 20 years time.  Assuming that a trip to India, China or Japan will be economically sustainable and that professional associations such as MPI, PCMA and IFEA will still be competing for attendees, then an annual meeting in Hong Kong sounds much more exciting than a meeting in London.

Exotic conference destinations offer a much more exciting and culturally diverse experience for the attendees. Pine and Gilmore (1999) are well known for their theory on the ‘experience economy’. They state that the demand for adventure, excitement and action during vacations and business trips is increasing. Reasons for that development are higher disposable incomes and consumer’s growing time consciousness. Getz (2008) argues that the expectations of an event rise parallel to the distance the attendee has to travel, which would set the bar for an event in the growing Asian market high. However, the professionalization of the event management profession through international guidelines such as the event management body of knowledge (EMBOK) and the increasing number of universities offering degrees in events management (Bowdin 2006) are satisfying the demand for more professional meetings and events, more intense experiences during such and event tourism as an additional income stream for tourism destinations.

Another variable that is currently subject to change is the constant evolution of people’s values (Yeoman 2008). We are becoming more aware of the environment and our impact on it. Especially air travel is a form of transport with a significant carbon footprint. Although the financial crisis has temporarily extruded environmental policies from the political agenda it will eventually be of high significance once again. Whether or not the climate change will actually prevent people from travelling long distances by plane is hard to tell. What is without doubt is that having an event always has a more negative effect on the environment than not having it.

In addition to tackling one’s carbon footprint events have the opportunity to make a difference for the environment through a sustainable legacy, increasing the event’s significance and positive impact through a long lasting inheritance. This could be achieved through education of the attendees. By doing so events will extend their impact on our society and legitimise their existence, which is of great importance when it comes to governmental funding and sponsorship.

Unfortunately, the globalisation of the world’s economies has negative effects, too. Clashing cultures are the reason for terrorism and thriving extremist groups. It is a threat to any large event, especially if it has political, economic or social significance. It affects travel to a meeting or event and the event itself. The cost of security has become more significant on every mega event’s budget sheet.

While terrorism is one of the results of globalisation, advancing technologies are causing it. During the PCMA Annual Meetings one can sense that meeting and event professionals fear that technology might make face-to-face meetings irrelevant. However, technology will never replace meetings people are attending in person; it is rather an opportunity than a threat.

Firstly, the Internet and it’s increasing availability on mobile devices makes communication more effective. As communication is the core of networking and networking is, according to Mair and Thompson (2009), the second most important factor for conference motivation, technology will increase the attendee’s experience and therefor everyone’s return on investment.

MeetingMatrix International, a company for room diagramming software from New Hampshire, USA, might soon become a new trend setter in meeting technology, as they formulated their noble cause as the long term objective to merge the physical and virtual world of meetings and events. On Mair and Thompson’s motivations ranking personal/professional development and self-enhancement are not a priority for attendees. Therefor watching the live stream of sessions will not replace the entire conference experience. One of the things that could make a difference would be the opportunity to take part in networking sessions as a virtual attendee.

Advancement in technology has recently generated meetings and conference smartphone applications. They have only been around for about two years and are becoming more popular. However, it will take another three years until they have reached their full potential. When that point is reached they will offer an efficient and effective tool for their users to make the most of a conference or meeting. A conference app has the potential to combine the most important motivational factors to attend an event: They will make networking easier by filtering your preferences and interests, so that you can meet exactly the right colleagues to network with, help you with a problem, market your product to potential customers etc. Secondly, it will aid you to find your way through the hotel or convention centre and possibly the host destination, pointing out additional activities.

Another technological trend is the sharing of resources. For example Microsoft has designed a photo panorama app available in Apple’s iTunes store for the iPhone. Many other apps have incorporated social networking platforms and other features making it easier to share information with others or to store them in the cloud. Technology is and will be all about efficiency, all we have to make sure is that it is also effective, doing the right thing. We have to be careful that all our gadgets do not make our experience stressful and that they do not distract us from what actually matters.

More has changed during the past ten year than over the past 100 years since the first conferences and meeting were held. The inevitable globalisation and the merging of cultures, the evolution of new values and the changes in society and technology will have a greater impact on our very young meetings and events industry than ever before. The growing eastern economies are opening up for us; our awareness of the environment will affect our consumption habits and technology will make it possible for event attendees to concentrate on the aspects they consider most important about a conference or meeting. We have to be aware of the role, which we as meetings and events professional will play in the future, as events have the power to change things for the better.

References

Bowdin, G. A. J., Allen, J., O’Toole, W., Harris, R. and McDonnell, I. 2006. Events Management. Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

Getz, D. 2008. Event tourism: Definition, evolution, research. Tourism Management. 29 (3), pp. 403-428.

Mair, J., Thompson, K. 2009. The UK association conference attendance decision-making process. Tourism Management. 30 (3), pp. 400-409.

Pine, B., Gilmore, J. (1999). The experience economy: Work is Theatre and every business a stage. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Yeoman, I. 2008. What will the World look like in 2030?. Tomorrow’s Tourist: Scenarios and Trends. Oxford: Elsevier, pp. 21-32.

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