Industry VIPs on the Future of Events

future of events
Seven top global meeting, event and hospitality leaders share their perspectives on the future of travel and in-person events.

The pandemic has reshaped the landscape for meetings and events in some unexpected ways. As the industry begins to return to in-person events after a virtual-only hiatus, what will the future of events look like?

A recent report by travel platform-provider Amadeus, in collaboration with Meeting Professionals International and Salesforce, predict in a new report that group travel is set for a strong conference season in Q4 and promising growth in 2023. The data also reveal that global group occupancy also is already on the rebound, and 2023 will get off to a strong start, with 48 million bookings already made for H1 2023, 16% more than were made in the same period of 2022.

But what does the rebound of meetings and events mean, and what are the implications for the future? Here’s what seven global industry professionals have to say in the new eBook, Industry Masters: The Future of Meetings & Events.

Future events will be experiences. Attendees have gotten used to not having to leave home to learn and network and, despite Zoom fatigue, it’s still going to take more than just building an event to get them to come, says Chris Meyer, CEO of George P. Johnson Experience Marketing. “Attendees are going to be more selective about what events they travel to, and it’s our job to make sure they get true value out of that experience,” he says in the ebook.

This means rethinking everything from the physical space — the traditional ballroom or convention center may not be enough of a lure to get them off the couch and on a plane — to staffing, meeting design and budgeting. Even the digital side of hybrid events needs to be rethought to deliver more of a cinematic digital experience than your basic live feed of speakers. This will entail ensuring your venue has the necessary technology infrastructure and bandwidth, and you may have to look outside of the usual suspects to find the staff with backgrounds in movie or TV production who can make it all work.

Specifically, he recommends booking a venue that can scale up or down as today’s attendees still are making decisions to attend late in the game. Interesting venues and outdoor spaces will continue to be in high demand.

Melanie Picard, Senior Director, AppExchange Partner Marketing, Salesforce, agrees that people no longer will be willing to travel just to sit in a ballroom. “I hope the future of in-person events is about creating more space for people to interact and digest what they’ve learned versus just being bombarded with information,” she says in the book. She recommends building in lots of breaks, networking time, and small group discussions, incorporating virtual speakers into both digital and in-person events, and keeping accessibility in mind for both on-site and virtual attendees.

Make your event multi-tier. With more attendees now adding a little pleasure to their conference travel — and bringing along the spouse and kids — offering a range of activities or value-added packages to keep the family occupied while the attendees tends to business will be a must, says Kevin Edmunds, Vice President, Meeting and Incentive Sales, AIC Hotel Group. But attendees themselves also are going to look for individualized, personalized experiences. As he says in the ebook, “Pre-pandemic, meetings and events were about business, business, business. Now, it’s not just sitting in a ballroom, looking at a screen, and being talked at for eight hours a day.”

This means figuring out ways to design meetings that offer differing levels of involvement. These multi-tier meetings could offer virtual attendance via video for first-tier participants, a way to attend a few activities in person while streaming the majority of the event for the second-tier local participant, and then the full-monty in-person event for the third tier of participants. In addition to ensuring you have the tech capabilities needed for hybrid and fully virtual attendees, event planners should lean on their destination management companies and third-party planning firms to help them deal with the increasing complexity — especially lingering health and safety concerns, liability and risk management, says Edmunds.

Put sustainability on the center stage. Mariela McIlwraith, Chief Sustainability Officer with the Events Industry Council, is a firm believer that sustainability is about “the interrelationship of people, planet, and purpose and how our decisions affect each area. For example, event producers create temporary environments, but the materials used to build them may last for centuries.”

Calling the power of human connections the “ultimate renewable resource,” she believes there will be more multi-hub meetings — several regional in-person meetings connected via cloud technologies — to reduce travel-related emissions while also providing an in-person experience. We’ll be seeing fewer classroom setups and more networking in shared social spaces such as hallways, and events that connect to a cause. There also will be more emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), so savvy planners will be designing their programs — and measuring and sharing the results — accordingly.

Get casual. Sneakers on a show floor may or may not be a coming trend, but informality definitely already is, and will continue to be, a shaping force for events moving forward, says Gareth Bush, Director of Food, Beverage and Events with the Royal Lancaster London Hotel. Expect to see attendees who are eager to suggest how to improve the event space and their experiences, and employees who are empowered to make those improvements on the fly without having to go through a lengthy chain of command. Venues and planners alike need to stay flexible and be willing and able to communicate about what realistically can be done. Local food and beverage options are both more sustainable and feed into the informality trend, he adds in the ebook.

Put wellness on the agenda. After two-plus years of pandemic focus on health, attendees are more attuned to what their bodies and minds need while on site than ever before, says Anne Dimon, Co-Founder, President and CDEO of Wellness Tourism Association. “the meetings and events side of wellness is bound to grow for the simple reason that more people are becoming more educated about how their daily lives affect their health, longevity, and sense of well-being.”

Spas and beach yoga are great, but wellness today is more about being inclusive and accessible, she says. Attendees will expect healthy food and fitness options, but also consider sustainable travel, the authenticity of the locale, and giving back to the local community. And don’t skimp on providing mental downtime by including some unscheduled areas in your agenda and quiet spaces people can use to relax and recenter themselves.

The upshot is that we can expect future meetings and events to be flexible, personalized, sustainable and hybrid. As McIlwraith says, “I see a future where every meeting matters, where everyone is welcome, and where meetings and events are a catalyst for change.”

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