When was the last time you got excited about meeting in a hotel boardroom or breakout space?
Since launching in February 2015, Berlin-based Spacebase has amassed a collection of 1,700 partnerships with unique, privately-owned venues available for corporate meetings.
These include photography studios, yoga studios, cocktail lounges, post-industrial restaurant spaces, co-working spaces, floating house boats, historic wineries and wine caves, and other creative venues across Europe.
Jan Hoffmann-Keining, co-founder of Spacebase, is part of an emerging crowd of entrepreneurs who are trying to marry the meetings industry and the sharing economy.
The goal is to match supply and demand for independently owned spaces that can perform double duty as event venues. Companies like Spacebase are using web platforms that closely resemble Airbnb’s portal to help a restaurant owner in Hamburg, for example, rent unused dining room space during the day when the restaurant is closed.
In Munich, companies can book an expansive high-tech kitchen with wraparound windows at Zilbert Advertising Agency, as well as the converted ski gondola conference room perched on the building’s roof. Paris, Barcelona, and Amsterdam each offer a bunch of coworking spaces and creative industry studios, bookable by the hour or day, and a wide range of upscale and quirky residences.
Across the entire portfolio, most of the spaces host groups from 10 to 100 people, with a few offering capacity for larger groups. Venue owners are educated about how to host meetings professionally, and unlike Airbnb, there will always be someone at the venue to welcome clients.
Every venue must also provide full audio-video capabilities and access to catering, which customers purchase as extras online before the meeting.
“Many of our customers have been working with the same company for 10 to 20 years, and they’ve always met in the same hotel meeting rooms with the same carpet and the same white walls,” Hoffmann-Keining told Skift. “All of these companies today are talking about innovation and creativity, but a lot of people are realizing that if you keep meeting in the same rooms and thinking the same thoughts, then it’s going to be hard to find that innovation and creativity.”
Tech, fashion, and media companies have traditionally booked non-traditional spaces for internal meetings, and Hoffmann-Keining confirmed that professionals in the creative industries still make up a healthy percentage of Spacebase’s client roster.
But, according to Patric Weiler, deputy market head for American Express Meetings & Events in Germany, there’s growing demand for unique venues coming from across all industries.
“These creative meeting spaces are good for everyone,” Weiler said. “I would say about 90 percent of our clients are very conservative, like pharmaceutical and automotive companies, and they’re telling us this makes a huge difference to help open minds. It’s much easier to be creative.”
Age is also playing less of a factor in driving demand. Over the last decade, Millennials have made a lot of noise about rebooting meeting design and making it more dynamic, but that opinion cuts across all generations now.
“Most of the people we’re working with are 45 to 50 years old,” Weiler explained. “They’re specifically asking for more creative and visionary spaces for internal strategy meetings, creative seminars, and general brainstorming sessions that impact executive decisions.”
The Booking Process
Spacebase’s website was intentionally designed to resemble Airbnb’s platform because so many people are familiar with Airbnb. The Spacebase site shows two columns of photos with large thumbnails of venues running down the left side of the screen. On the right side, an integrated Google Map shows pins for each property matching the location and price search query.
As with Airbnb, there’s also a full list of filters on the Spacebase site. That means clients can customize their search for different meeting venue styles, such as filtering for museums, green spaces, or private residences, for example. Users can also customize their search by space capacity and price per hour.
Hoffmann-Keining said that most of the searches are coming from people, including project managers and administrative personnel, rather than dedicated meeting planners. The demand has always been there from these sources, who aren’t trained specifically in planning meetings, but they’ve never had an easy way to search for unique venues, compare their pricing, and book online.
However, there have been some challenges in terms of adoption because there still seems to be some confusion about the sharing economy for some first-time Spacebase customers.
“For example, safety for women is a big question in the sharing economy with companies like Airbnb and Uber, and so people will ask us how will we guarantee the safety of women in those meetings,” said Hoffmann-Keining. “But normally if you got to a meeting, you go with your colleagues together in a group. So this is where we’re different than other experiences in the sharing economy.”
In terms of pricing, it’s difficult to compare fees for similar meeting spaces in hotels and restaurants, house boats and advertising agencies.
Hoffmann-Keining and the Spacebase website promote the premise that creative venues save companies as much as 40 percent off hotel meeting space rates. Meanwhile, Weiler said that the fees for the same square footage tend to be fairly equal. He added that the service quality tends to be about the same, although the response rate is usually quicker with Spacebase.
“The most important thing talking about value is that the meetings industry is changing, and the classic silos are breaking up about how to plan a meeting,” Weiler stated. “I think all of these silos should be deleted. Clients appreciate when meetings are more innovative, so that’s where the value is for us.”