The year to come: Event industry predictions for 2018

Barry Neame

Barry Neame

ASE, Bronwen Largier, asked PCO Association president, Barry Neame and a number of industry leaders to give their predictions for the  year ahead, from the challenges to the opportunities 2018 will yield.

Peter Jones – Technology is poised to be a major source of both opportunity and challenge right across the industry.

“I am continually amazed at where technology is going and the impact it is having on what we can provide for attendees at events. Everyone is looking for the next ‘new thing to try’ and now guests are even expecting it,” says Peter Jones AM, Managing Director of Peter Jones Special Events.

Both Barry Neame, President of PCOA, and Joyce DiMascio, Chief Executive of EEAA see technology as a challenge as well as an opportunity.

Barry cites “learning the latest tech tools and predictions of the ‘next big thing’ and coming up with new ideas on meeting design” as one of the primary challenges for the year ahead.

Joyce says the constant transformation of the events sector is exciting, particularly in the areas of event technology and marketing technology but points out that how to leverage these opportunities will be a key issue in 2018.

“Being nimble – responding to change – that’s got to be [a challenge] that everyone has to focus on in 2018. Things move so fast. Technology has enabled that. Consumers are wiser, better connected and expect highly personalised, fast interaction and turn-around. That means companies have to invest in this capacity – often that’s hard to do as people are busy working in the business rather than on the business,” says Joyce.

Meanwhile MEA CEO Robyn Johnson says, “We see the continuing development of new technology in the events industry as a significant means to streamline the delivery of events.”

Education and professional development
Meetings and Events Australia is using technology to address another big issue in the industry for 2018 – education and professional development, launching their online Diploma of Event Management at the end of 2017 and running a series of webinars for members throughout 2018 to address industry skills shortages and grow industry knowledge.

“Over the next year, MEA will further our focus on creating tools to support everyone looking for a career path in this dynamic industry,” says Robyn.

The Professional Conference Organisers Association will also be running a series of 17 webinars throughout 2018, while the Exhibition and Event Association of Australasia will see their Exhibition and Event Industry Traineeships roll out in NSW this year, in partnership with TAFE NSW and Apprenticeships Support Australia.

“This is a first for our industry and we hope it helps to attract more young people to the sector,” says Joyce.

Industry talent
Staff recruitment, retention and skills are also predicted to be significant focuses in 2018, with a continued push to position the industry as an attractive option for potential employees.

“Many of the members [of EEAA] I talk to comment that it’s getting harder and harder to attract and retain staff – ‘opportunity’ will be constrained if the talent pool becomes shallow and small,” says Joyce.

Meanwhile, Barry points out the challenges of needing specialist skills in a wide variety of areas as a PCO.

“We will need the agility to become multi-faceted event organisers with skills in marketing, advertising, sponsorship, technology, event production,” he says.

Felicity Zadro of communications agency Zadro Agency goes further. “The industry faces major workforce challenges,” she says.

“Like many professions, people are expected to have a full set of skills and experience – event management, business development, marketing, sponsorship etc. – and as the cost of wages goes up, so too do the expectations of employers. Finding people for these multi-pronged roles which are prevalent in the relatively small teams of many event companies is tough. There are major shortages in roles such as sales and business development with event experience which are key to the success of the whole industry,” she adds.

The value of face-to-face
In the age of technology, events as a marketing tool and a place to physically meet and connect are touted to become ever more important in 2018.

“It feels like the pendulum has swung back to the importance of face-to-face as brands search for ways to have true and deep engagement,” says Felicity. “Whilst the best events are using multi-channel strategies, we are seeing a resurgence in the importance of being in the same room with colleagues.”

Robyn agrees. “There is clear evidence people still want and need to meet face-to-face. This is especially so where new technology is being launched and where products need to be demonstrated. Conferences focusing on complex social issues are generally more productive done in person to maximise collaboration and generate debate,” she says.

Event design
Barry notes one of the most exciting prospects of the year ahead is “the opportunities to design events that facilitate bringing people together to learn, share knowledge and collaborate in ways that ensure the engagement of all participants” while predicting that millennials, as the largest demographic of the events segment will bring about “big changes in meeting design”.

Several of the others concur that meeting and event design will continue to evolve in 2018.

“Event design will remain a challenge for event organisers, but the winners here will be the delegates as organisers create programs that promote interaction and engage with audiences,” says Robyn.

“Traditional conference formats will continue to be challenged, with new styles being trialled and evaluated offering flexibility to the delivery,” she adds.

“We all need to be continually looking for the next new ‘wow’ factor,” says Peter Jones. Opportunities for event producers are in “events that need a point of difference and you are able to deliver that.”

Event security will also continue to influence events according to Peter.

“Particularly in relation to public events, it’s all about safety and risk – so much has changed in the last three years for all the reasons we understand and that will continue to influence the way we approach events,” he says.

Joyce also points to how to prepare for and mitigate risks – cyber, terrorism and catastrophic events – as a continuing issue in 2018.

Event legacies
Event legacies – particularly looking beyond the economic benefit – are expected to gain significance in 2018.

Andrew Hiebl from the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux predicts that “Australia will turn away more international bid opportunities than it submits, as the focus moves to event return beyond just economic benefit.”

He says Australian convention bureaux will become more selective, targeting bids based on alignment with priority growth industries.

The AACB’s latest market intelligence from July 2017 shows that the top two industry sectors attracted to Australia internationally for meetings and business events are the Healthcare and Social Assistance, and Professional, Scientific and Technical Services industries.

Felicity’s view supports this.

“Organisers considering what the legacy of their event is, is going to become more and more important. Audiences are being more scrupulous with their time, so they want to know and understand, what does this event represent, do, give and leave. The international conferences are leading this charge and it is important work.”

Meanwhile, at MEA, Robyn says the association “will also continue our gathering of information on the lasting legacies that the business events sector creates. These legacies can take the form of contributions to charities, donation of time and labour to community programs, the establishment of research or business initiatives that benefit an institution or industry profession for the overall betterment of society. Events industry legacy programs can have a national or international focus.

MEA is documenting these legacies to evidence the non-economic value we deliver to Australians.”

Government backing
But both MEA and AACB are calling for more government support to help Australia be competitive internationally.

“Another challenge but with good opportunities attached is promoting Australian as a regional events centre. However, we do need more support from the federal government, especially when you see the efforts other countries are going to in their aims to draw big events to their venues,” says Robyn.

“Australia will continue to experience increased international competition,” says Andrew. “If Australia is to secure even more international business events, strong consideration should be given to the establishment of a dedicated national convention bid fund, an initiative which other countries now have in place to mitigate the risks of hosting international business events in long-haul destinations.

“Geographic preference continues to be the number one factor for our bureaux in winning and losing bids, positively due to Australia’s high desirability and safety as a destination, but negatively due to its travel distance and total cost associated with holding an event here.”

Finally, Barry suggests there might be greater unity between the various sectors of the events industry in 2018.

“The sector will start sharing information on key industry issues with counterparts. They will recognise this to be imperative if we are to continue to strengthen and grow the events sector in Australia,” he says.

To that, we say, “Well then, let’s get cracking!”

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