Overview of the Conference Industry
Business tourism and the conference industry has become a major part of the international tourism industry and effects the economic gain of many countries worldwide. The international conference market covers a wide range of events, ICCA estimate 24,000 association meetings are organised on a regular basis. The conference industry has changed a lot in recent history, Europe’s hold on the market has declined whilst Asia/ Middle East has grown quickly effectively mirroring the decline in Europe. There is a clear market trend that the attendance size of meetings has reduced where as the number of meetings recorded has doubled, a shift due to the change in global travel and availability for business industries to meet together.
There has also been a shift towards regional meetings as the number of meetings that rotate worldwide has reduced by 31% over the last 50 years. Rising areas within the industry are Latin America, Asia & the Middle East, as the traditional leaders; Europe and America are saturated markets and started to decline in wake of growing industry in the aforementioned areas.
The topic of security at events has become a frequently discussed topic over recent years amongst the media and academics as the public call for tighter, visible security to be present at event and conference venues (see my other posts on my Event Security series). In the wake of the Boston Marathon, Paris, Manchester Arena & Las Vegas terror attacks in recent years the large conference venues in Europe and North America have increased levels of security. You can see from the ICCA statistics 2017 (https://www.iccaworld.org/) Paris has fallen from 1st to 2nd place, potentially due to the rising frequency of terrorism aimed at the city and frequent unrest that is making media headlines. The presence of security at these venues can add to the attendee’s experience as it is the norm to have them around in large conference spaces when a public event is on. It is likely security will be seen more frequently at conferences of all sizes in the future. As the demand from buyers grows & the suppliers have to meet increasingly strict laws regarding duty of care. It is not just terror threats which will affect security and safety at venues, the rising frequency and levels of natural disasters require conference staff to select venues that provide assurance they are secure if such an event were to occur. Particularly in areas such as Asia, Latin America and southern USA which have seen infrastructure devastated by earthquakes and hurricanes.
Not only physical security will be an issue for venues, as cyber security has become increasingly important alongside the advancements in technology. When venues provide Wi-Fi and mobile apps to clients they need to make sure the network is free from malware that could lead to attendee’s data being leaked and used illegally. It is predicted that global spend on cyber security will exceed $1 Trillion over the next 5 years.
The repeat business of venues is built on reputation, past experiences and positive testimonials, with the safety of participants being at the forefront of attendee’s mind during the decision-making process of whether the attend an event it is important they perceive the destination and venue as safe. The effect this increased demand for security has on suppliers to maintain their reputations as safe destinations is the increased cost that comes with hiring additional security and the protocols that need to be put in place before to ensure the area is clear. As the number of meetings in the conference industry is increasing so is the number of venues offering conference facilities so for suppliers to remain competitive it is vital the level of service is high and incorporated security is part of that experience package.
Over the last 10-20 years technology has changed the way we go about our lives completely. It has constantly evolved and there looks to be no slowing down in this area if anything technology will be incorporated more and more into both personal and business areas, with technological related meetings showing the highest relative growth in the last 50 years . The event & conference industry has already seen the shift into a more technology centric environment, the digitalisation of pre-event registration and ticketing platforms and the incorporation of Wi-Fi based products such as video calling becoming a standard across the industry. Now the event industry looks set for faster more advance changes from new technologies, and for all areas of the industry to survive they need to adapt to these changes. The event industry is an experiential industry and there is growing demand from attendees for both buyers and suppliers to create something new, interactive and innovative from a conference.
One of the major benefits for buyers and suppliers is the creation of mobile apps, these can be used to collect data on attendees who use them. Allowing data analytics to monitor the attendees’ preferences and collect feedback for both the organisation putting on the conference and the suppliers, whilst the attendees have an interactive & personalised experience. One of the key upcoming technology trends for the conference industry is the use of Virtual reality & Artificial Intelligence, these have started to be used by innovative tech conferences and due to popularity look set to become more popular across the industry. Virtual reality allows suppliers to demonstrate products that might be difficult or expensive to transport to a venue and allow the attendees to have an immersive experience they may not have been able to have otherwise. It is also being used to have speakers who may not be able to attend as holograms although this is currently expensive and not cost effective for organisers. Artificial intelligence especially chatbots are likely to be the norm at all types of conferences, they provide an instant communication to attendees & can reduce the numbers of staff needed effectively reducing costs in that area. Of course, with all technology, costs will increase for suppliers as they will be expected to provide areas to charge and maintain equipment as well as providing staff on site trained if the technology was to fail, this could lead to the venues without the capital to invest being left behind in the market.
A trend we have seen grow especially fast is the use of social media, in the next few years it is expected to be used by businesses to the same frequency it is for personal use. Social media is effectively free marketing for brands, events & suppliers, by having attendees & event staff share the event through social media they will be expanding the field of influence. It also allows for people to share their expertise instantly with people at home as well as attendees. Suppliers will need to provide engaging visual content for attendees to share to make the most of this & buyers will have an interactive experience. Live streaming will become increasingly used within conferences as it has already demonstrated its ability to increase brand awareness and social media/ website following quickly. Also allowing time limited attendees who may not be able to attend to watch from home. With all the new technology available it will be an interesting time for the conference industry, it will be important for suppliers to remain competitive by providing these new technologies. However, humans still desire face to face interaction so the potential to flood the market with technology could also see a rise in the traditional methods still having demand within the marketplace.