Forward Thinking

How the Collaborative Economy Is Changing the Industry

Chances are, you’ve heard about the collaborative or sharing economy. But have you thought about the ways it’s disrupting the meetings industry?

Collaborative consumption is about shared access to products and services. Sharing goods and services is considered smart, social, green, and in alignment with the values of your next-generation conference participants. Time magazine has identified it as one of the “10 Ideas That Will Change the World.” The sharing movement is having — and will continue to have — a significant impact on all of us as consumers and professionals.

It’s already creating waves in our industry. Consider that Airbnb now has an inventory of rooms to rent — 650,000 — that eclipses Hilton’s. It took Hilton 93 years to get to that point, versus four years for Airbnb. It’s a very different business model than what we’re used to, but it’s certainly an attendee option.

LiquidSpace and other companies offer hourly or daily rentals for office or meeting spaces. Thousands of them! Even Marriott jumped on the bandwagon by offering its meeting and workspace inventory on LiquidSpace’s website. It’s primarily for the top five U.S. business centers, but the concept is taking off in many markets around the country.

Uber is totally changing the transportation ecosystem in more than 100 global cities with its drivers-on-demand app — not just taxis, but also car-ownership choices.

How will the collaborative movement affect conferences?

Buyer’s market

While most hotel chains are skeptical that emerging solutions like Airbnb or LiquidSpace are real competitors, I predict that companies such as these will have a major impact on the hospitality industry’s supply/demand equation, to say nothing of how they affect the room-block model. It may take a few years, but my money is on a long-term shift to a buyer’s market — especially for room inventory that’s attractive to the huge Millennial market. Supply and demand has the greatest impact on hotel-room pricing.

Lower attendance

Companies may send fewer participants to major conferences — not because of cost cutting, but because of increased sharing and knowledge-transfer improvement among team members. Digital technologies allow us to keep our network alive and well even without attending a conference.


More suppliers will consider shared booth spaces and co-sponsorship opportunities. Instead of one company throwing its own private dinner, several can pool their money and customers to deliver a bigger and better experience. Meeting professionals should try to make those partnerships part of the main conference experience.

Smarter procurement

Conference organizers may look for more opportunities to share stage sets, keynote speakers, and design elements with conferences that occur before or after their own.

We’re just scratching the surface of how the collaborative economy will disrupt traditional business models. Understanding this growing trend will enable you to be of greater strategic value to your organization.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.