Ramy Salameh reports on how Germany is thinking ahead with its Future Meeting Space project.
Three million meetings, conventions and events take place every year in Germany, attracting 380m participants, making it second only to the US for international association conferences.
Germany’s latest Meeting & Event Barometer, 2016/2017, showed that the number of international visitors attending meetings in Germany has more than doubled between 2006 and 2016, from 14.3m to 32.9m.
Within this framework of achievement, the German Convention Bureau (GCB) and partners, wants to future gaze and understand the trends which will shape the meetings industry in decades to come. They founded the innovation network Future Meeting Space (FMS) in January 2015. Now in the second research phase, the GCB is aiming to provide a roadmap for the MICE market with innovative ideas to help drive the industry forward.
Mathias Shultze, managing director of the GCB, comments: “We’re living in an era of constant change, mainly driven by technology and, in this environment, we feel that it’s not a time to rest on our laurels. As the representative body of the German MICE industry we see it as vital to continue exploring what’s ahead and preparing our sector for the future”.
The FMS project evolved from a study initiated in 2013, entitled Meetings and Conventions 2030, which looked at the megatrends shaping the industry. Having outlined the major developments, megatrends and their impact on meetings and conventions, the GCB felt it was necessary to take one step further and provide planners and venues with practical tools on how to navigate this future. Joachim König, president of the European Association of Events Centers (EVVC), believes that Future Meeting Space will be very helpful to both his members and other players in the industry. “The benefit is very obvious if you look at the permanent need for good information if you plan renovations or new meeting plans.”
The resulting research findings of the first phase of the FMS project led to the creation of the ‘Innovation Catalogue’ and six ‘Future Meeting Scenarios’ covering multi-site, co-working, unplugged and hybrid conferencing, plus interactive forum and virtual-goes-live formats that delve into the future of how the meetings sector may look in future.
Rainer König, director key accounts at KFP Five Star Conference Service GmbH in Germany, says he has incorporated some of the scenarios into his agency’s strategy. “Namely, multisite conferences for cost savings; hybrid events using digital twins in order to allow people to participate events virtually,” König explains.
Building on those findings, the innovation network then developed the Future Meeting Room as a practical example to help both meeting planners and suppliers satisfy future needs and requirements of delegates.
König is also managing director of Hannover Congress Centre (HCC) and has adopted recommendations from the six Future Meeting Scenarios in his venue’s conferencing strategy: “Demands for very multi-functional rooms and equipment are absolutely important…”
Clearly, Germany is in a position to adopt research findings, but could the study benefit others in a position to keep pace? Shultze believes there are. “Our industry is,” he says, “a very agile one. Meetings and conventions are platforms where representatives of all kinds of industry sectors exchange ideas and know-how and this, naturally, is always about innovation as well. In this sense, we, as the meetings and conventions sector, are constantly exposed to new developments and trends that we need to take up and reflect”.
Conversely, is the time and investment that the GCB and partners are making in this project something that the industry will eventually help fund or provide some form of return-on-investment?
Shultze says he is interested in seeing how the industry will respond to his bureau’s research findings and putting them into practice.
And, from a reputational perspective, Shultze is sure that the Future Meeting Space can certainly strengthen Germany’s overall standing in the meetings sector and its position as “a future-oriented and innovative destination”.
One of the key aspects of the research is technology and the way it is changing the industry. FMS presents findings showcasing VR and Hybrid event technologies which could encourage less travel for MICE purposes.
Shultze, however, does not look at it from this perspective. “Technology has propelled our industry to another level and the whole value chain, our processes and how expertise and know-how are transferred have changed. We keep a close eye on all the developments and, at the same time, see them as an opportunity”.
There is plenty of other research to suggest that ‘human interaction in the meetings sector cannot be replaced and this is certainly Shultze’s belief that, while technology within the digitised landscape is the present and future, it will also provide new avenues to facilitate face-to-face dialogue. “For example, technologies that enable people to take part in events virtually can potentially open up completely new audiences and then also lead to physical attendance of events further down the line,” Shultze underlines.
To support this point, Shultze notes that the hybrid conference scenario enables cost efficiencies in both time and expense, yet features both physical and digital meeting spaces; while the ‘Virtual-goes-live conference’ generates face-to-face interaction from the online environment. König of KFP, however, believes, “Not everything is technologically feasible and practically applicable,” warning that, “you have to meet the requirements and skills of the audience”.
Funded by the Education Foundation of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), Phase 2 of FMS turns the attention towards the user perspective, basically asking the question: ‘What are the different types of participants and how are they impacted by the use of different elements of meetings methodology and technology?’ This input is vital in this research phase because data about how specific elements of meeting methodology and technology affect knowledge transfer, the learning process, networking and the experience value for different types of participants will then form the basis for developing recommendations for the business events industry.
Dr Christian Gross, head of VDE Conference Services, says the FMS idea to learn more about new personas at meetings and events is absolutely essential. “FMS establishes robust – and data informed – user personas which will be used by designers of conferences and events to place the customer’s perspectives and needs at the centre. Personas are fictional, but realistic representations of key audience segments that are grounded in research and data.”
Miguel Neves, head chef @ Social Media Chefs adds that FMS is important if we are to understand better the power of meetings “and really change, for the better, the way we meet. It’s a great piece of research and I think it will really impact how meeting spaces are designed around the world.”
The industry awaits the recommendations. Vorsprung durch technik!