While the industry outlook for 2017 is bright, the meetings and event industry is operating in a rapidly changing environment. Demographic, social, economic, political and technological changes require conference managers and event teams to plan ahead like never before. Successful meeting organizers will develop strategies now to overcome the challenges and maximize the opportunities that lie before them.
Many association executives are concerned that not enough Millennials are attending their annual conferences and meetings. This is concerning because up to 2/3 of older Baby Boomers have already retired and it is estimated that 10,000 Boomers will continue to exit the workforce each day between now and the end of next decade. Unless younger GenXers and Millennials replace retiring Boomers at conferences, attendance will drop significantly.
This transition in the workforce suggests there is a strong need for the type of networking and career development that conference offer. So what should event managers do to better attract and engage Millennials? Demographers suggest that younger consumers are so accustomed to multitasking and multi-screens that they literally think differently than previous generations. Exhibitors must create creative, visually compelling, personalized and engrossing experiences in order to retain their attention.
Another difference with trade show attendees today is it is almost impossible to stop people from staring at their phones. Whether on the exhibit floor or sitting in panel discussions, attendees are addicted to and constantly distracted by their phones. Event planners are now incorporating the phone to enhance rather than distract from the experience. Conference managers are creating mobile apps to support registration, networking, navigating the convention center, and disseminate session handouts.
Exhibitors are using QR codes instead of badge scans to capture visitor information. Collateral materials and follow up marketing can all take place via phone scans, text messaging and real-time email delivery. Crowd-sourced social media, interactive games and audience polling all incorporate the phone into the conference experience.
Conference organizers can later use electronic data such as the number of app downloads, Twitter followers and scans to attract sponsors and exhibitors to future shows.
Political and Social Changes
Political and social issues can have an unexpected yet significant impact on the event industry making contingency planning all the more important. The controversy surrounding North Carolina’s so called “bathroom bill” led to travel bans from states that disagreed with the policy and several conferences and other events relocated outside the state.
The meetings and hospitality industry also needs to plan for how changes to immigration policies may impact speakers, meeting participants and attendees coming from outside the United States. There is also the need to understand the impact should changes would have within the hospitality industry, both at hotels and at convention centers and other venues across the country.
Although high profile incidents such as the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting may have a short-term chilling effect on travel plans to the affected area, studies show the impact is only temporary. A study from World Trade and Tourism Council said that on average, tourism levels return to normal within 13 months of an incident. In some cases, depending on the nature of the incident, the impact is even shorter. Or there may be no travel impact at all. Even so meeting organizers should think ahead and have communications and contingency plans in place.
Economic forecasting is always fraught with uncertainty. As of this writing, many economists are optimistic about the future of the US economy while others are concerned with emerging threats such as a potential trade war and geopolitical tensions. Fortunately for the meetings industry, uncertainty can create demand. When industries face large and significant challenges, that’s when they are most likely to see the need to collaborate with peers to share expertise on how to adapt to changing market conditions.
An Exciting Year Ahead
In summary, no one can know exactly what 2017 will bring. However, outlook for the meeting industry looks bright. The need for networking, career development and collaboration are stronger than ever. Employment is robust and job openings are at an all-time high. There is a transition in the workforce as Baby Boomers exit and Millennials enter. The pace of change and disruption is increasing, causing many industries to rethink how they are doing business. Meeting organizers who plan strategically will minimize the risk from negative trends and maximize both the effectiveness and profitability of their events, in 2017 and into the future.
If you would like help planning for your next event, contact us for a free consultation.