To the Point

The Future of Business Events

It’s all about balancing technology with the power of human touch.

Take a glance at this year’s Meetings Industry Forecast, and you’ll see the future looks bright for business events. Exhibitions will continue to grow, perhaps by up to 3 percent next year. RevPAR — already on a seven-year growth spurt — will continue to increase, although perhaps more modestly. And global business-travel spending is slated to rise by 6 to 7 percent in the next few years. (As always, these projections are dependent on stable economies, governments, and travel policies.)

As you dig deeper into the data and expert opinions this year’s forecast has brought together, one of the most interesting storylines is the role of technology. Of course, you don’t need a crystal ball to tell you that technology will have a profound impact on business events of the future, but this year’s forecast includes more on how high-tech advancements will help event stakeholders make connections and improve the live experience, aid them in their quest to get to know attendees even more (and improve their bottom line), and alleviate common travel woes. As Marco Giberti, author of The Face of Digital: How Digital Technologies Are Changing the $565-Billion Events Industry, tells us: “I think that finally organizers realize that event tech is a critical part of their business and a key growth opportunity, and not just a ‘nice thing to do.’”

At the same time, a theme that recurs is how technological advances have increased people’s desire for human connections. After all, isn’t that one of the key reasons — or the reason — people value face-to-face events? It’s the eye contact, the handshake, the nod of the head, and sometimes just the sheer gathering of people in one room from different places and maybe different walks of life. And it’s up to us to preserve — even capitalize on — the human touch at our events.

This doesn’t just fall to event organizers. Hotels, airlines, and other travel- industry players need to recognize this, too. “Hotel investment in more technology will not necessarily create better experiences,” according to A.J. Singh, Ph.D., a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Hospitality Business. “Look for companies that recognize this fact and are investing in staff training to have a more emotional and empathetic connection with the guest — in other words, increasing the human-interaction quotient in hospitality.”

One more story on the technology front: All the advancements we’ve seen have increased concerns about privacy and security. As event-technology guru Corbin Ball notes in our forecast: “Hackers will almost inevitably target some events via an online registration system and/or a mobile event-related app (likely an Android version) in the near future.”

At this point, “to have technology or not to have technology” is not the question. Rather, it’s a matter of balancing the benefits of high-tech with the benefits of human touch. When we find that balance, that’s when our business events will truly shine.

Deborah Sexton

Deborah Sexton is president and CEO of PCMA.