This annual review covers many of the major events technology trends to watch for this coming year.
- Peerspace provides non-traditional meeting space for corporate events, meetings, film shoots, parties and workshop in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, L.A., New York, Seattle, Austin, Chicago, Berlin, London and Paris (with more cities to come). Notice the almost identical layout from AirBNB, with the map view, meeting space thumbnails, user ratings, and the ability to list your own space.
- Spacer provides a very similar services and site layout for New York, San Francisco, LA, Miami and Chicago
- EventUp: Another alternative meetings space booking engine with an AirBNB look. This database of U.S. meeting facilities is quite extensive and includes hotels as well. Planners can sort by budget, number of attendees, neighborhood within a city, amenities (AV, pets, street parking), venue type, and look/feel (i.e. corporate, cozy, loft space). Most venues are not "express book venues," however.
- Spacebase also has an appearance very similar to AirBNB, but more international than Peerspace or Spacer, offering venues in 10 countries with website options in three languages and offices in seven countries.
- Meetingsbooker provides direct small group meetings space booking (up to 40 people) with listings in 70,000 venues on a global basis. Some of the destinations highlighted are London, New York, Dublin, and Syndney.
- eVenues is a non-traditional meeting space booking tool for the “everyday planner.” It offers a broad selection of North American venues and provides filtering capabilities on capacity, price, city neighborhoods, and map view. Site visitors can either book directly or use a “full-service” meeting space booking and planning service.
- Bizly is another small meetings direct booking site, just out of beta testing. It also has a look similar to AirBNB and is targeting large corporations About 2,000 meeting venues are listed in about 50 U.S. metropolitan areas. There is a free package any planner can use as well as pricing for corporate and enterprise clients with additional capabilities.
- Groupize provides a small group meeting booking tool for corporations. This system allows clients to book 1-9 guest rooms with meeting space from a database of 150,000 hotels. It is also integrated with Concur, the travel, expense and invoice management tool. This simple meetings sourcing system claims savings of 10-25% by centralizing small meetings bookings and managing “rogue spend” within the company.
- Kapow provides direct “corporate events in non-traditional venues” booking tool in 21 U.S. cities. Group activities include team building, in-store retail events, entertainment tickets, interactive F&B, cocktail receptions and dining experiences.
These are among the newer sites that provide direct, online booking of meeting space and experiences. More are in the pipeline! These streamlined processes promise to save planners time and effort from traditional RFP booking engines and is a key event tech trend to watch for 2018.
2. Event wayfinding will advance with the help of augmented reality (AR)
Global positioning system (GPS), using signals from satellites, does not work indoors. Over the years, there have been many attempts at indoor positioning systems (IPS) to help attendees navigate through meeting spaces and exhibit halls.
Google Indoor Maps has been around for several years and is already available in thousands of buildings. Simply open up the Google Maps app within these building, such as the Las Vegas Convention Center, to navigate the various halls, meeting rooms and levels. Additionally, there are indoor mapping content management systems, such as MapsPeople, that make it easy for facilities to manage their Google Indoor Map. However, Google Indoor Maps primarily uses Wi-Fi triangulation with a position accuracy of about 15-45 feet (5-15 meters). While this accuracy is fine to give general directions inside a large facility, this is not accurate enough for booth-to-booth navigation in an exhibit hall – a key goal for many tradeshows and exhibitions.
But now, augmented reality (AR), a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view, will soon be added to the arsenal of indoor positioning methods. Typically, this is done via your mobile phone camera (think Pokémon) but eventually will become available in updated versions of AR glasses (less intrusive versions of Google Glass or Hololens).
Google recently announced at the most recent Google I/O developers conference its Tango Visual Positioning Service, a AR GPS for indoors. Working with Google Indoor Maps and visual data from the camera, Tango will see features in the environment to give users hyper-local directions guidance.
Not to be outdone, Apple's iOS11, and the iPhone X, will have substantial advances in AR, and eventually could be used to help people navigate through and interact with indoor space.
The benefits to event attendees could be significant, including step-by-step navigation of a venue or an exhibition hall. AR technology will also open the door to gamification options (a Pokémon-like event scavenger hunt?) as well as interactive booths, signs, banners and displays.
What remains to be seen is: will the ease of AR set up and accuracy of positioning be suitable for the precise indoor positioning requirements of exhibitions? Exhibitions require a quick turnaround/set up with a different floorplan each time. This will likely require a separate AR setup and mapping each time. As AR enters into mainstream general mobile use, it will be interesting to see if it will be tuned to meet the precise needs of exhibitions and events.
3. Chatbots, with the help of artificial intelligence, will provide on-demand attendee info in a ubiquitous and simple text-based format
Chatbots are computer programs that conduct conversations via auditory or text methods. With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), these systems will become increasingly accurate in determining the sense and context of voice/text requests and responding in a human-like way. The explosion of voice-activated systems such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home attest to the rapidly increasing capabilities of these systems.
However, the voice interface does not work well in crowded environments such as a meeting room or a tradeshow. External phone conversations in a meeting room are generally not well accepted as is yelling orders into your phone on a noisy exhibit floor.
Artificial intelligence (AI) should make the development process much faster, easier and cheaper. With the advance in machine intelligence, it will be possible for an event planner to simply upload the event website and other details such a link to a center’s exhibitor requirement or details of the surrounding area. AI will allow a computer to read, absorb, catalog and make sense of the details with little or no human intervention – and provide it back in text or voice as desired.
4. Newer, cloud-based companies will make an “event tech deck” and integration easier.
Data management systems are maturing to where integration is a much simpler task. With state-of-the-art cloud-based event technology systems and advanced APIs (application programming interfaces), it is now possible to collect and analyze onsite data and connect them with CRM tools such as SalesForce.com – closing the loop from a marketing standpoint. Interoperability is at the center with much of the change that is happening.
One example is Eventbrite, a basic consumer-oriented event invitation, registration and ticketing system. This San Francisco based company has been built from the start to be interoperable with others and lists hundreds of software products that it integrates with in its Eventbrite Spectrum page.
5. Hacking attacks on events, venues and individuals will increase and privacy protection standard will increase.
The recent data breaches of Equifax, Sony, the DMC and international ransomware attacks point to increased and more sophisticated hacking activity. Sabre’s data breach is causing headaches for Four Season, Trump, Kimpton and Red Lion Hotels. The WannaCry Ransomware attack on the Romantic Seehotel Jaegerwirtz locked guests out of their hotel rooms. With the Shadow Brokers hacker group leaked National Security Agency exploit in April, cybercriminals have a much more dangerous weapon giving the ability to spread encryption files across an entire network. We will likely see this increase!
As a planner, make sure your registration company is PCI compliant and take other steps to guard attendee information captured.
As an individual, the standard precautions:
Use strong passwords.
Become aware of phishing scams.
Keep your virus protection up-to-date.
Consider the use of identity theft protection services.
Use multi-factor authentication services when available.
6. New methods for friction-free event check-in are developing.
Technology, when used properly, is not an end. It should be a means to an end – for example, to make the process of checking in at event registration easier and faster. Automated check-in terminals such as Cvent OnArrival and other similar products are becoming standard at many events. For smaller events, guest list check-in apps, such as Check In Easy can eliminate cumbersome paper check-in spreadsheets replaced with mobile devices with many extras such as QR codes confirmation pass scanning, and VIP notification when special guest arrive.
Other companies, such as Boomset, have focused specifically on the onsite registration process with a range of tools including self-service kiosks, NFC tracking, lead exchange, access control management, on-demand badge printing and more.
These are just a few ways that technology is improving the event registration process. More innovation is likely to come in this space.
7. Events become central to an overall marketing effort.
Webinars and other virtual meetings are great for short information exchange. However, in today’s multi- tasking and often distracting work environment, attention spans are short. Thirty to forty-five minutes is usually the maximum you can expect someone to pay attention to a webinar while sitting in front of a monitor.
Meetings, on the other hand, take people to a more focused environment with fewer distractions. As long as attendees are informed, entertained and fed, event hosts can keep them engaged for days. At the minimum, we share a social contract to at least look like we are paying attention at an event. The opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and relationship building are usually far greater at face-to-face events than online. For an exhibitor, it is often the best way to meet so many qualified buyers in such a short time. For buyers, it is a great chance to meet vendors of interest – all together in one location, categorized and mapped for your choosing.
Meetings provide a vastly richer, more targeted, and more focused learning experience than nearly any virtual meeting.
Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, DES, MS is a speaker and independent third-party consultant focusing on meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site Corbin Ball & Co. - Meetings Technology Headquarters (www.corbinball.com) and followed at www.twitter.com/corbinball.