Claire Smith is VP of sales/marketing at Vancouver Convention Centre where she’s seeing a sea shift in meeting design trends inside the LEED Platinum facility. For those of you who haven’t visited, the spectacular Centre faces both the urban core and a yawning bay leading out to the Pacific Ocean, framed by Stanley Park and the cloud-swept Rockies.
We talked with Smith about some of those meeting design trends and the factors behind them. The following has been slightly edited for clarity and length.
Prevue: What is the number one trend in conference and meeting design today?
Claire Smith: Creating a sense of place because delegates are demanding more to see and do, and people are so much more visually oriented these days.
Prevue: How is that manifested at the Vancouver Convention Centre?
Claire Smith: The foyer is the new meeting room, and I see it here all the time. It’s about being in a more interesting environment. Those more casual discussions are still really important and they support the meeting objectives. And also, because of the views we have, they connect with the outdoors to create more interesting and inspiring places to learn, share and connect.
Prevue: Where are they sitting?
Claire Smith: Just casual furniture or sitting cross-legged on the carpet having a dialogue. We didn’t see that five years ago. We saw people sitting in rooms doing what was expected of them. We’re now even seeing actual sessions moving into the foyer space, which can be a nightmare for planners when 50 people start hauling chairs around.
Prevue: What’s driving that shift?
Claire Smith: Today we want to create meaningful experiences for ourselves, such as pop-up gatherings with like-minded people that enriches the overall convention experience. Peer learning is important instead of just listening to wisdom on the stage. It’s about building on our knowledge through sharing ideas with others.
Prevue: How is technology impacting casual learning and networking?
Claire Smith: People are using devices for so many aspects, and there are so many formulas for sharing knowledge being used today to interact during the event. I will see people sitting in the foyer with three devices going at once. There’s also a lot more video, so that’s what I mean by people being more visual. Videos are being used more because YouTube is so popular, and it’s how we’re learning.
Prevue: What changes are you seeing among exhibitors?
Claire Smith: We’re seeing less standard activation areas, and less displaying of wares. We’re seeing more sponsored, interactive, loungy experiences to support a brand. All of the top sponsors are creating areas where people interact to promote the company brand.
Prevue: What is an example of that?
Claire Smith: Target created a meeting environment with tables and chairs and F&B so delegates could just mingle and relax in a casual manner. At IMEX America, Montreal set up an exhibit area outside the exhibition hall, where they were promoting breakfast in bed at the [Venetian Las Vegas] hotel, like you might order in Montreal. There’s an interesting evolution in sponsorship in some instances like that…. It still drives revenue but not in the same way.
Prevue: What’s the big takeaway here?
Claire Smith: Consumer behavioral trends are driving travel trends so meetings are having to adapt. For example, buffets are coming back based on the demand for personalized experiences, because everyone today wants to control their own experiences on their own terms. It’s just a reflection on society.