While the consumer world scrambles to grab onto anything that may be new, novel or bragworthy enough to catch fire, the modern meetings and events planner may want to take notice. Thinking beyond the grid, catching moments of creativity can drive a so-so meeting into a memorable event and often without the dreaded deluge of added work to make it happen.
You have no doubt heard the phrase, “there is an app for that.” So, when it comes to making a few momentous tweaks to create a memorable meeting, some forward-thinking digital movers and shakers have emerged in recent years to meet the demand in what is now known as “The Sharing Economy.”
Considered “upstarts” and “disrupters” in a number of serviceable areas, these companies have successfully shaken up the ways we get from point A to point B and changed the way we approach our lodging options. Now those streamlining concepts are moving into the meetings and events industry and providing new ways to manage productive collectivity.
“To me the biggest changes are expectations for greater experiences. We no longer have a group mindset, we have a consumer mindset and as a planner, to deliver on those types of experiences we are having to really stay focused to deliver the ‘next’ experiences,” says Greg Bogue, chief experience architect here at Maritz Global Events. “With the importance novelty plays at a meeting or an event, we need to look at the significance of interrupting the ordinary. How do we disturb what people are expecting? We need to challenge people to think beyond what they know or what they think is coming. Interrupt that.”
Taking Meetings out of the Box
“…the biggest changes are expectations for greater experiences.”
That interruption is exactly what Berlin-based Spacebase had in mind when it launched in 2016 to offer a variety of new and intriguing meeting spaces that might not have been considered by meeting planners in the past. These include unused farm houses set up for business functions or corporate conference rooms not in use at a Fortune 500 company. A photography studio or artist’s lair, an ambient gift shop or art gallery … small spaces and large are offered on the Spacebase site at day rates that run well below traditional hotel meeting room prices. While Spacebase is big in Europe, where much of this emerging technology is located, inventory is cropping up in pricey New York City and San Francisco now, as well.
The concept of “sharing economy” is easy to parse. The idea is to use unused inventory: whether a parked car (an idle driver), an extra bedroom or apartment, a conference room or work studio, even an ample kitchen table in the middle of a large dining room of someone’s home. As resources can be shared, so can local experiences, personal time and stories to deliver novel and unexpected moments to meeting and conference delegates.
Another such company out of the UK, Showslice, does just that as a platform allowing event buyers to easily inquire about venues adjacent to other confirmed events in order to share the similar infrastructure and save up to 70% on venue and event set-up costs.
The Realities of Sharing in the Sharing Economy
“I am hoping to see technology promoting the concept of sharing by, for instance, showing events that planners can go to for a one-stop connection shop. I don’t believe it’s here yet. It would be a place where people can share assets directly with planners, and maybe where a gig economy of outside temp help could be listed for planners to hire. It may not be here now but it’s a place where some enterprising companies could be heading,” says Gary Schirmacher, CMP, senior vice president, industry presence and strategic development for Experient.
So far, the primary intersections between meeting planners in the U.S. and the sharing economy platforms have been on Airbnb and the rise of transport sharing services, such as Lyft and Uber. Airbnb, while an easy and convenient option, especially during citywides or meetings in underserved locations, does not offer the quality assurance most planners need to run with the program. For the risk averse, use of the platform is not an option.
“We have had demand for this service so we have placed links for clients, especially for meetings in places where hotel rooms were in short supply or located too far from the meeting venue,” says Schirmacher. “The Airbnb link went only to homes, condos and private apartments – not couches or rooms in people’s homes. But in the end only a handful of clients activated this link, probably because of safety concerns and unknowns. So, it was used far less than we had expected.”
Schirmacher notes the sharing economy works on four driving principles, which also apply to meeting planning:
- Technological Innovations
- Value Shifts
- Economic Realities, and
- Environmental Pressures
What do they all have in common? Sharing resources. The benefits are high: cost savings, resource savings, simplicity, more end-user control and that wild card of meetings success — novelty.
My feeling is content is ripe for sharing,” says Schirmacher, “and as it gets harder to go through the process of abstract submissions and scoring, there is a whole world of new platforms where content might be able to be accessed.”
But today’s meeting planner may not yet be ready to take up the challenge.
“The hope is that planners will eventually open up their minds and realize they can collaborate”
“The reality? So many planners are saying, ‘this is my meeting and I’m not going to share.’ They are being protective and may not really be at the table when it comes to action over words,” adds Schirmacher. “The hope is that planners will eventually open up their minds and realize they can collaborate – that it is not about ‘me.’” That is when change will happen. Right now, it is still to each to his own.
“But technology will eventually open this up. On these platforms, you can be active or you can just observe — and that is where a planner could really get some good information and maybe even start sharing.”
Emerging Meeting Planner Platforms to Watch in the Sharing Economy
Airbnb: The unhotel directory of available apartments and condos that can be booked for short- or long-term stays in cities around the world.
Showslice: A digital business-to-business marketplace where event organizers can partner with each other on events that share a venue and timeframe.
Spacebase: This app breaks the “boring” mold with a wide selection of stimulating environments and unique locations based on the type of event, session, meeting or workshop.
EatWith: Matches groups with novel food experiences around the world.
Peerspace: Showcases underused loft spaces and photography studios on its platform.
SharetheBus: A cost-efficient way to bring groups together with bus companies that have idle inventory ready to be used to transport delegates to a function or event.
MeetingsBooker: Pulls together everything from traditional hotel conference rooms to modern event spaces on short notice and can book accommodations, conference space, and food and beverage services as well.
Splacer: Started by a group of New York architects, this platform is considered the Airbnb of creative events spaces.
Bizly: This Manhattan-based mobile and online platform enables users to book group work and meeting spaces at hotels, based on location, guest size, date, and time.
Breather: Matches meeting planners with flexible and well-equipped office and meeting space, mostly in Los Angeles.
Maven: A microconsulting platform connecting professionals for direct knowledge-sharing interactions.
Coursera: Offers online courses and credentials from the world’s top universities and education providers.
Khan Academy: Instructor-led online educational and instructional videos for the advancement of students.
The sharing economy is changing our world every day. Understanding which companies are disrupting the meetings industry now and into the future is essential to decide the best-of-class companies to align with.
Who is your favorite shared economy company for meetings? Comment below.