Wrapping up the keynote speaker slots for IBTM Wired was Stephen Attenborough, Commercial Director, Virgin Galactic, who inspired us all to reach for the stars – literally – and dream big with a discussion about the very real possibility of sending people into space on Virgin Galactic’s commercial spacecraft.
To date, fewer than 600 people have actually been into space. Attenborough says that although most people would like to experience space for themselves, the number of people who expect to experience it is almost no one, and yet, he suggests that it is within our grasp. “We’re standing at the dawn of a new space age,” he says. “This will transform our business and personal lives.”
December 2018 was the first time that a crewed vehicle built for commercial use put people into space and brought them back safely. “We’re not just looking to take a few people into space, we’re looking to take thousands of people,” said Attenborough.
“This is not space for someone else, this is space for us,” he asserts. Although the cost for entry is high – at present, a ticket costs $250,000 – Attenborough points out that this cost should come down over time as more competition enters the market. This opens up lots of exciting possibilities for the events and incentives market and certainly provides food for thought as we consider how to re-imagine the events experience for the future.
In the final Trends Watch session of IBTM Wired, Ali Turner, MD Eight PR & Marketing spoke with Ben Goedegebuure, Global General Manager EMEA, Maritz Global Events to gauge his opinion of what the future holds for Europe’s events market.
Summarising the past 15 months for Europe’s event industry, Ben commented that the region has been through a huge process of adjustment. The industry has had to learn quickly and during this time, and indeed to some extent still now, there has been only one constant, which was that change might change again.
Looking forward to recovery, Ben believes things are looking positive, but the industry needs to brace itself for a complex period with small setbacks. Ben’s feeling is that over the next six months there’ll be real confidence coming back into the market – across Europe it’s already a fact that there are very high numbers of RFPs being shared, so it’s a pretty optimistic outlook in which flexibility and agility will be key.
Ben points to a recent survey by the Strategic Alliance of European Convention Bureaux, titled ‘the impact of the coronavirus pandemic’, which surmises that the levels of people that will be attending events will be lower because some might not be confident to travel, or businesses might not have the financial resources to do that travel. Delegates will be much more conscious of choice in terms of whether they go to an event and how they spend their money which makes the importance of experience all the more important. Overall the survey suggests that across Europe, visits will recover by 2024 but convention and events spending won’t recover until 2026.
The discussion moved to the European Union’s digital covid certificate, which 16 countries are already using. According to Ben, this kind of collaboration is really important and the only way of any sort of future. Countries need to work together and it’s important there’s something similar from an international point of view at some point.
On a city level, Ben highlights the fact that conversations that the industry has been having for years have now been accelerated, for example, when it comes to sustainability, how do you travel to a destination and what is the environmental impact of doing that? What experience will delegates have at an event in that city and is it worth going to an event for three days if the content is not valuable?
The big learning the industry needs to have will be about the experience, the individual choice to attend in-person – or not! Now there will have to be an additional reason for delegates to attend, as it can’t just be about the travel and the content. Education is easily had through digital events – in the future it will have to be about the way in which we design the experience for anyone wanting to go to an event and cities need to be very mindful of that.
“It’s really important that we focus on innovation”, says Ben. “It’s important our industry continues to innovate and think about its relevance into the future and learn from the period we’ve had now. We’ve all experienced digital events, but we haven’t done enough on the experience of those yet. This collaboration of organisations in the industry to innovate together is very important.
“I’m positive we’ll reopen in a way we’ve seen in the past, but I think the one thing collectively we’ve learnt is that we need to look at the future with the ability to be more agile in how we approach business and problems. I don’t know what the timeframe for recovery is, but I am optimistic.”
Matt Davies, Senior Account Manager, Cvent shared some valuable insights into the question on everyone’s lips – how we go from virtual to hybrid to live and how to keep up with the shifting demands of events.
“We shouldn’t go back to limiting the number of people who can experience our events,” reflected Davies, who noted that the switch to online formats has created massive opportunities for event planners and marketers. Technology now gives us an unparalleled insight into attendee behaviour and, with the right tools in place, we can turn this data into actionable leads.
The aim is not to replace that personalised experience, rather create tools that enrich the experience. The more that attendees interact with the technology, the better understanding event planners have to enable a post-event follow up. We need to take a data-first mentality to all our events. In doing so we can create alignment across all teams.
Davies raised the issue of training to help achieve this: “We need to prepare ourselves and our teams: do the teams need training, is content optimised, is the right tech in place to deliver the experience, is someone managing the process of change, does the business understand why it’s doing this?” His advice was to identify and tackle these roadblocks upfront.
With delegates increasingly expecting interactive experiences across all three event types – virtual, hybrid and live, event planners need to approach their events strategy with a view to creating a total events programme. This is more than just improving one part of the event, commented Davies, it’s about enriching all aspects of the event experience, and ultimately creating a more robust event strategy for the future.