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The most significant challenge for corporate event planners today is continually finding unique experiences and venues that inspire participants and drive attendance.
The second challenge is making those experiences and venues easier to book once planners find them.
“People are tired of going to just another steak dinner with their colleagues and customers, so event planners are always looking for something new and interesting,” said Chris Brown, president of Kapow, which is an online marketplace selling group venues and interactive experiences in 21 U.S. markets.
There is a growing number of technology companies moving into the automated event-venue rental space. Their goal is to create a turnkey digital booking platform for planners with small to medium-size groups, much like a traveler would use a third-party online booking website to reserve their vacation with a hotel or tour operator.
And because everything is automated, planners can then forgo time-consuming, person-to-person negotiations with venue suppliers because rates are set and availability is shown in real time.
In an attempt to differentiate itself in this blossoming market, Kapow is packaging creative venues with group experiences such as pasta-making classes in Italian family restaurants and painting lessons in artist studios.
To date, the inventory of standard-event venues on the Kapow website far outnumbers the team-building experiences, but Brown says that the company is continually adding more live event opportunities.
“We’re assembling the largest collection of unique corporate event ideas online, identifying what works, and building out an online marketplace that delivers on the demand for customized events,” Brown told Skift. “You can’t find these types of experiences or this level of detailed venue information on OpenTable.”
A second differentiator for Kapow is the use of Matterport’s “3D immersion video” technology, which makes it possible for planners to virtually walk through venue spaces. Much like how architects design 3D digital models for their clients, Matterport videos show event planners how all of the different areas of any given space flow together.
Brown said that Kapow plans to have Matterport videos available for 40-50 percent of the venues by the end of 2016.
“With the Matterport technology, you can navigate right down to a specific area where you want to introduce clients, or that exact table where you want to close the deal,” he explained. “Ultimately we’re trying to create an immersive experience to deliver the best business outcome for planners.”
The fact remains, though, that many event planners are wary of booking venues and group experiences without some kind of peer-to-peer contact and/or site visit. Especially when prices are often $100 per person and higher, there’s a lot at stake when planners book a space unseen for 50 or more people.
Corporate event planners can be notoriously conservative and traditional so it’s a significant jump for them to shift to automated booking platforms like Kapow.
“For corporate planners booking multiple events especially, they’re already not visiting venues they ultimately book because there just isn’t time in a lot of cases,” Brown suggested. “The problem is you always need so much rich content specific to group events, and that rarely exists with most restaurant, hotel, and event space websites.”
Whether this will scale among mainstream event planners remains to be seen. However, Brown forecasts that Kapow will expand from 21 major U.S. markets presently to 100 by the end of 2017.