Skift Take

Venues are getting smarter about designing space in a more flexible way to enable more creative events. This is a welcome change as companies and groups gravitate away from the tired old meeting concepts and toward more memorable, experiential events.

Small events are often able to offer creative experiences for groups in ways that don’t scale well for larger events or conferences.

A big part of this is the availability of meeting spaces that can be tweaked and adjusted to enable a specific type of group setting, along with leveraging the diverse characteristics of hotels and other venues geared towards small events and simple meetings.

The IACC Meeting Room of the Future: A Survey of Meeting Venue Operators and Suppliers report shows small venues are embracing more varied ways for their customers to hold meetings. The group surveyed more than 50 venues on four continents with average group sizes of less than 100 attendees per event.

Now, more than a third of the venue operators polled have all of their rooms equipped for a flexible layout.

“The momentum in venues creating more flexible meeting environments is the standout result this year,” said Mark Cooper, CEO of the International Association of Conference Centers. “We saw an increase from 28 percent to 37 percent of venues which now have 100 percent flexible spaces, with no fixed seating. This is in line with an appetite from meeting organizers to incorporate a changing layout for their meetings, often multiple times in the day and the furniture used in the meeting spaces is critical to this being possible.”

For those that haven’t embraced flexible spaces, cost of investment and product storage problems remain the top barriers to change.

Meeting space operators, though, don’t quite view their role as experience creators quite yet; with just half of those polled saying their job is to provide experiences. Destination-based activities tend not to be held on-property, with just 24 percent holding them onsite and 58 percent offsite.

As the experience economy become more intertwined with the hospitality industry, this represents an opportunity for hotels and venues to offer more diverse activities onsite. It could be more of a product branding problem, however, than a lack of appropriate activities.

“I actually think destination and venue activities are a significant aspect of experience creation, but possibly because there are so many ways in which they play a part, often they are not considered a destination activity at all,” said Cooper. “As an example, there are so many ways for instance, that a destination or region can create a culinary-based experiential activity, themed on something unique to the region or venue.”

The report also offers some insight on the decline of video conference options at meeting venues. In 2017, 85 percent of venues polled offered video conferencing hardware; in 2018, just 53 percent do so. Telepresence, as well, halved from 40 percent to 21 percent.

While 78 percent say their venue offers sufficient bandwidth, 52 percent say they are going to invest in increased bandwidth over the next year.

The culprit could simply be the growth of cheaper video conferencing solutions for enterprise users. Why should a venue invest in costly hardware when an attendees laptop and an HDMI cord can handle most use cases?

“The research identified that the expensive hardware that used to be the only way to video conference in a meeting or conference, is what is being phased out and what many venue operators who invested in it, refer to it as a poor investment choice,” said Cooper. “It is not the concept of video conferencing that is going away, but it is more the case that it is very easy and inexpensive to deliver via online providers such as GoToMeeting and Zoom today.”

Perhaps that money can be better spent on event technology solutions that enhance other aspects of the experience.

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Tags: meetings, meetingsiq

Photo credit: A meeting room at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Flexible meeting spaces are on the rise, although many still prefer a traditional meeting setup. Andrew Sheivachman / Skift

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