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Despite growing use of virtual meeting technologies and pressures to rationalize the number of events, the prognosis for small and large events in the year 2020 appears to be strong, according to a survey of 1,125 meeting and event professionals from 76 countries. "But to attract customers will require significant innovation in meeting formats, business models, organizational capabilities and the use of technology," according to Martin Sirk, CEO of the International Congress and Convention Association which together with IMEX and Fast Future Research sponsored the Convention 2020 study.
"Far greater focus on enabling business will be expected, ranging from ensuring the right people are there to facilitating on the spot transactions and proving the return on investment," said project director and Fast Future CEO Rohit Talwar.
"The next decade promises an uncertain economic climate where optimism and growth will be unevenly distributed across the planet, and where technology will offer an ever wider range of alternatives to live events. The challenge for the industry is to recognize the shifts taking place and embrace the need for innovation in event design and business," he added.
Nearly 80 percent of respondents expected growth in smaller, more sophisticated meetings, but half expected fewer larger events. Another 48 percent forecast an "explosion in the number of free or very low-cost evening only meetings held in low-cost venues," such as libraries, wine bars and schools.
Designed to help the meeting industry "prepare for the decade ahead" and fielded between November 2009 and January 2010, the online survey garnered 59 percent of responses from Europe and 23 percent from North America. The three largest respondent groups were the United States (22 percent), Germany (12 percent) and United Kingdom (11 percent), followed by Asia-Australasia (11 percent), Middle East-Africa (5 percent) and South America (2 percent).
Networking, Content Drive Attendance
Networking will be the biggest single factor to encourage attendance by 2020, according to 76 percent of survey respondents. Other driving factors for meetings and events, according to more than half of the respondents, are the ability to see the latest sector development, guaranteed opportunity to meet key people, high-quality speakers, high-quality educational content and the ability to learn more about competitors. Asked what would encourage them to attend live events, respondents ranked at the top of the list cutting-edge experiential technologies, low-cost attendance, free attendance, social events, interesting domestic location and a zero environmental footprint.
The survey also asked respondents to identify the main drivers of events today. Top responses were "quality of content, interaction, technology and networking." Current barriers to event effectiveness, according to the study, are "the cost of attending, poor organization and a lack of focus in the design."
Nearly three-quarters of respondents said their "organizations would maintain their investment in live events in 2020." Forty-six percent said time and cost pressures might deter organizations from sending delegates. About 60 percent of respondents said their organizations by 2020 would invest far more in alternatives to live events than they do today.
Streaming Top Tech Expectation
Three-quarters of respondents expect live video streaming to remote participants to be common by 2020 and 70 percent expect a social network before, during and after events. About 64 percent expect to be able to download all event content to mobile phones. More than 90 percent of respondents predicted more reliance on technology to "enable capture and analysis of every activity, presentation and conversation."
Respondents said venues need to improve the technology offering, remain ahead of the curve and provide free broadband access. "For modern day attendees, charging them for broadband access was akin to charging them for the air, electricity or water used at the event," the study noted that many respondents remarked.
"Despite the widespread excitement and proliferation of augmented reality applications for smartphones such as the Apple iPhone, only 32 percent said they expected such technology to be in widespread use at events by 2020," according to the study. Other technologies that ranked lowest were the concept of remote attendees participating as 3D holograms (33 percent), objects with built-in intelligence to interact with people around them (17 percent) and intelligent avatars participating in virtual events for attendees (15 percent).
By 2020, virtually all survey respondents said they expect their "ability to communicate, share data and negotiate at any time and in any place with clients, suppliers and business partners will be vastly greater and more efficient than today, thanks to technology." Yet less than half expected the latest mobile technology to negate their need to attend conferences or exhibitions to learn information.
Event business models likely would need to change in the decade ahead, respondents said. More than three-quarters of respondents said events would need to offer strong, price-based incentives to attract desired delegates and 76 percent expect there to be far more opportunities to conduct transactions--sample and purchase products and services--at events in the future. Three of five expect a rise in pay-as-you-go or pay-per-session models.
Organizers will need to rely on personalization, customization, full event capture of interactions and content, green and ethical decisions to attract delegates, the study found. Responses also highlighted competitive pressures that convention centers could face in 2020 from schools, universities and colleges (63 percent), museums, galleries and libraries (56 percent), meeting facilities in office buildings (50 percent) and other facilities that seek to generate additional income from meeting organizers.
IMEX CEO Carina Bauer said "With an expected proliferation of smaller and more specialized events, convention owners and venues will need to develop a range of business models and event funding approaches to succeed in a hypercompetitive environment.''
More than three-quarters of respondents said they worked in the meetings and events industry and one-quarter of responses came from those in other industry sectors. Within the meetings sector, 32 percent of responses were from internal, external or independent event organizers or meeting planners and 30 percent from conference, convention or exhibition centers, convention or tourism bureaus or destination management companies who frequent assist in site selection in Europe. Speakers, facilitators, travel agents, tour operators, industry associations, educators, airlines, event technology and other suppliers were included.
Among the assumptions that organizers asked respondents to consider as they completed the survey were: further economic turbulence between 2010-2020, China and India as major economic powers, a global population of 7.5 billion to 8 billion and increased globalization and interconnectivity between companies and value chains.
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