the Showmanator says “Are Venues Smart enough?”

the Showmanator says “Are Venues Smart enough?”

Well the good news is no-one’s writing off face-to-face meetings and events any time soon!  Looking at a couple of recently published industry reports, it’s clear that industry professionals still expect face-to-face events to be an important part of the marketing mix as far out as 2025.  Event City of the Future Report, published by Meet Birmingham, and UFI’s 2011 Report are upbeat about the future of the industry … but conditions most definitely apply, and the underlying theme in both is we need to do better.

The UFI Report highlights the need to supply clients with ‘future-oriented information instead of simply selling space’ and that exhibitions should become ‘kings of content’ which can be ‘leveraged throughout the year’. The report acknowledges that too many visitors still don’t catch the right business partners and that there need to be changes in customer relationships.

The enticingly titled Event City of the Future asked 70 leading industry professionals what they see as the predominant trends over the next 15 years. They answered:

– Delivering an effective and tangible ROI is seen as the key success factor.
– Attendance levels, new business leads and generating new contacts will be the most important measures of success.
– Addressing the apparent skills gap in how to use technology effectively will also be critical, rather than ‘just paying lip service to technical wizardry’.
– There will be a shift from regional to urban event centres.
– Trade shows must become thought leaders in their markets.

While these findings are interesting and certainly the issues need to be addressed, the industry still needs to successfully capture the hearts and minds of event participants (to say nothing of their dollars) and neither report offered much in the way of genuine crystal ball gazing about how this transformation is to be achieved.

None of the predictions are, as they say, rocket science – there are a plethora of tried and tested technologies with the potential to transform the event experience through RFID, GPS, Bluetooth and other capabilities that enable true interactivity between participants and deliver enormously powerful analytics to measure and demonstrate ROI. Particularly when coupled with all the possibilities of future social media to build communities round events and justify the ‘kings of content’ handle  Reducing the skills gap?  The pressure on dollars will ensure at least a quantum improvement.

But this is where it all starts to unravel.  To meet projected industry growth, new exhibition centres and venues are springing up like mushrooms after a humid summer shower and many established venues are extending their exhibition space.  But are the decision makers behind these builds getting the point?  That something actually needs to change and it’s not just the interior décor or putting a large screen in the foyer.  Transforming the technology infrastructure within venues must be a priority if these builds are to achieve genuine improvements.

In the UK there is a movement headed by the Professional Conference Organisers Association, trying to address the need for ubiquitous and free wireless at all venues.  Imagine!  While this would be a very welcome innovation, according to those who know about such things, it would create as many problems as it would resolve as it is not considered likely to be able to deliver sufficient capacity for much more than checking email.  Equally 3G is touted as an alternative, but this is only a real option for domestic visitors – roaming rates are simply too high at present for anyone else.  This has to change in time, but it remains a challenge for the foreseeable future.

So even if event producers get their heads round their self-acknowledged lack of smarts about technology, something has to change in the delivery model of internet and wireless and other technology enabling infrastructure if the barriers to success are to be overcome.  There needs to be a new business model for venues and producers that genuinely embrace the new ways people can and want to engage, which also gets away from ‘paying lip service to technological wizardry’.  To do this, the industry needs to build Smart Venues to match the other smarts that are available right now, and find different ways of offsetting the costs by mining the incredibly valuable information that will become available.