Menu

Reality check: meetings are still a safe bet

Outgoing Vienna Convention Bureau chief Christian Mutschlechner might not have been entirely serious when he claimed people would be printing their own convention centres before long, but his words reflected a sense of unease among industry suppliers about their role in a world where the frontiers of technology are, apparently. expanding every day.

During a session at the ICCA Congress in Dubai recently, the feeling in the room was that suppliers needed to rethink their value propositions if they were going to survive the new – or ‘fourth’  – industrial revolution – the name given to the fusion of digital technologies with the physical and biological worlds, in areas such as AI, biotech, nanotechnology and the Internet of Things.

Natasha Richards, advocacy and industry relations manager at IMEX, worried that too many venues were old and therefore limited in terms of their adaptability to the demands of the new economy. Heike Mahmoud, CEO of Congress Centre Hamburg Messe, related how organisers of a large tech-conference had come with their own technology.’ ‘Do they need our expertise anymore’ she asked. ‘Are they moving too fast for us?’

There is something counter-intuitive about the number of new convention centres under construction. When you can video-call someone on the other side of the world on your smartphone, it’s hard to look at a plenary room and think, ‘this is the future!’ But a plenary room doesn’t have to be the future. It just has to be a suitable place to showcase the future. After all, those 40,000 techies who converged on Hamburg recently still needed a physical space in which to meet.

Claims we are living through a period of extraordinary technological innovation should be met with the caution they deserve. We might just be living through a period of extraordinary hyperbole, especially when it comes to the claims made for robots, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence. Trials for driverless cars, for example, began in the 1950s and the reality is still a long way off. Indeed according to one model, 85 per cent of the economic limit of technology has been reached, and is projected to reach 95 per cent by 2038. Compared to the revolutions of coal and steel, the internal combustion engine, and computers, today’s revolution is, well, turning rather slowly.

The basic infrastructure of the meetings industry is not in danger of falling into obsolescence any time soon. Where the meetings industry has to keep up, is in the type of meeting it facilitates. Here Greg Clark, who was chairing the session at ICCA, was right when he spoke of the need for destinations to know how to ‘convert a scientific conference into an innovation event, with more collaboration, (and) a lot of showcasing of technology and linkages’.

There will be more pressure on destinations to act as curators, pulling together the various strands of expertise necessary to make a meeting click. Destinations will be forced to identify their intellectual and industrial strengths and proactively seek – or indeed create – events that coalesce around those, rather than operate a scatter-gun, anything goes, approach to bidding.

“In old industries,” Clark reflects, “the relationships are binary whereas the new industries are on an eco-system basis. The new industrial revolution needs a new approach from suppliers and certain types of places are more appropriate for certain types of events due to the intellectual capital of these places.”