Preparing for the Future of Events
The goal of any event is to create a lasting impression in the minds of attendees. However, this objective often has the unintended consequence of forcing event planners to focus on the moment without giving much thought to the future of the industry.
It’s understandable. With so much riding on succeeding now – engaging audiences and creating memorable experiences – it’s hard to place much focus on the next event, much less the next 20 years’ worth of events.
Still, it’s always a good idea to take a few minutes and reflect on where the industry is headed. After all, the alternative is to be stuck in 2020, while other event planners race ahead to 2030 and beyond.
A recent joint report from the travel industry research firm Skift and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), titled The Sustainable Future of Meetings and Events, examines the trends set to define the events industry. According to the report, personalization and sustainability will continue to be important to attendees, while planers will place increased attention on event safety and festivalization.
Attendee preferences for personalization are shaping the way events are designed. The Skift/IHG report stresses that aspects of events, or entire events, are becoming smaller to enable more personal interactions. While events have always strived to help attendees create connections with one another, primarily through networking sessions, evidence shows that, despite intentions to meet new people, attendees tend to congregate with people they know.
A Columbia University study tracked this phenomenon by monitoring the attendees of a networking mixer, 95 percent of whom stated that their primary intent was to meet “as many different people as possible” and “expand their social network.” However, the research revealed that while each person had an average of 14 contacts, about half of those were with people they knew.
Instead – or, in addition to – networking sessions, events are also providing smaller, more collaborative educational sessions. In these smaller groups, it is easier for people to feel comfortable interacting and participating with strangers because they are striving to achieve a goal. It’s a form of networking that is especially valuable because participants gain knowledge and an understanding of the other participants’ strengths.
The Skift/IHG report quotes Jonathan Kaplan, the vice president of global sales strategy for IHG, who believes it’s a trend that’s going to continue. “Smaller, more intimate groups and events are trending with generally 80 percent of meetings representing groups of 50 people or fewer. This creates more opportunity for collaborative, deeper discussions and engagement.”
“Right now, the focus is on plastics,” Josh Adams, a meeting planner with Streamlinevents, is quoted in the Skift/IHG report, “but it goes far beyond that. At the end of the day, sustainability is really about leaving the planet in a better place than it is today. How do we take care of the planet above water? How do we take care of the planet below water? How are we ensuring that we’re not contributing to unfair labor practices, for example? How are we enabling gender equality? There are all these other things that fall under ‘sustainability’ that, I think, we’ll eventually tackle.”
Environmental practices that were once reserved for the most extreme environmentally conscious events are commonplace at many corporate meetings, expositions, and trade shows. Events are eliminating single-use plastics, going paperless, using locally sourced ingredients, enforcing on-site recycling policies, employing measures that drastically reduce or completely offset the event’s carbon footprint, and utilizing venues that are green destinations.
In the Skift/IHG report, Kaplan says, “The $120 billion meetings industry generates significant impact on the environment, whether you’re thinking about energy use, resources, or waste. It’s all but mandatory for suppliers to drive sustainability measures to be in the consideration set for a customer who keeps these values at their core.”
The concept of festivalization is a transition for events where the focus is to create experiences that form lasting memories.
The genesis of festivalization was first described by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore in their 1998 Harvard Business Review article, “Welcome to the Experience Economy.” The article revealed a – at the time – new economic model where experiences are a distinct economic offering, along with services, goods, and commodities.
It’s a concept that’s no longer novel. In fact, we’re in the midst of the experience economy. Studies have found that both millennials and Generation Z would rather pay for experiences than luxury products (although, Gen Z will shell out for individualized items). Increasingly, to create memories for attendees, event planners are turning to venues for assistance.
The Skift/IHG report uses a few examples. The first is a hotel developer in New York City, Lightstone Group, that worked with a family-owned restaurant group, Antica Pesa, to create a new venue’s dining options. The venue offers an all-day cafe and a fine dining restaurant, which was positively reviewed by the New York Times. It now uses these food offerings as a differentiator to secure events.
The second examples are the Crowne Plaza Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia and the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. The Crowne Plaza offers “guests personalized advice on the best ways to see local attractions – like the Georgia Aquarium and The National Center for Civil and Human Rights – as well as their tips on the best shops nearby.” Whereas, the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants “make local neighborhoods easier to access through a convenient and free cycle sharing program in partnership with Public Bikes.”
Providing memorable touches, both big and small, will set events apart, and the most successful will create a lasting impression in the minds of attendees.
Any time a large group of people gets together, there is risk potential, from bad weather to those with bad intentions. The recent COVID-19 outbreak has brought yet another vulnerability of people gathering in large groups to light. Mitigating potential dangers is an essential part of every event. This means making sure that security and medical are adequately staffed and that an event safety plan is in place.
However, the Skift/IHG report also stresses that attendees need to enjoy the event free of these concerns. “‘Duty of care and emergency preparedness should run quietly and seamlessly in the background,’ Padraic Gilligan, the chief marketing officer of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, told Skift contributor Allan Leibowitz. ‘It need not directly impinge on the program itself other than in the reassuring security briefings and communications’ issued ahead of an event, Gilligan said. Event managers can integrate layers of tools — including ‘access control and bag inspections’ as well as ‘wider use of electronic chip technology in event lanyards,’ Leibowitz reported — to increase the security quotient of events without inconveniencing attendees.”
The report also stressed the need to protect attendee data. Today’s events run on data, so attendees must trust the event’s management to handle their data responsibly. In addition, regulations like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and additional state legislation currently in the pipeline, make mishandling data a costly mistake.
“The goal for event planners is no longer to just put on an event to check a box but to transform that event into an experience that will make a lasting impact and turn those attendees into deeply engaged prospects and repeat customers,” Rachel Andrews, the director of events for Cvent, is quoted in the Skift/IHG report.
Committing to these initiatives will help position event planners for success now and in the future.