Tech Trends in Events to Watch
Event Africa Contributor 13/06/2019 Industry News
The experts all tend to predict a rising focus on technology in the MICE sector. But what are some of the specific trends taking the industry by storm? Natasha Skoryk finds out.
This article was first featured in Issue 2 of Event Africa.
“We all know that technology is one of the most active drivers bringing change to the event industry,” says Rick Taylor, of The Business Tourism Company. And that, of course, cannot be denied.
What’re some of the trends he expects to see making an impact on the industry in the next while? “Augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, projection mapping, ad-hoc apps and microsites are some of the technologies that will proliferate across the global meetings and events industry.”
Mobile Apps for Events
As far back as 2014, Guidebook was reporting that 86% of event participants rate a dedicated event app among the top three things that enhance their experience. As such, the importance of mobile apps is almost taken for granted in 2019. Most major events develop applications for use in the build-up, during and after the event itself. QR-codes make downloading these simple, and apps have been shown to drive participant engagement and increase attendee satisfaction. However, we are seeing new ideas and innovation permeate this sector. A simple schedule, participant list and chat forum may soon be passé!
For instance, tech-savvy organisers are gamifying the event through creative use of an app. A great example of innovative app use was Xperience 2017. The theme was School of Membership and Engagement (a play on “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”).
The app came with a built-in game, which awarded points for completing various conference activities such as checking into sessions, proving visits to stalls on the convention floor by scanning QR-codes, or sharing hashtags and photos from the event. Participants were randomly assigned to teams (in keeping with the theme, these were called “Houses”), and the points went towards an overall tally… This allowed for both a sense of camaraderie and healthy competition. Event organisers noted that 88% attendees had downloaded the app and had accumulated some points by the time the conference wound to a close. This was a significant increase on prior years.
Incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) into the app is another way to boost engagement and use innovative technologies.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang did this by integrating AR into the navigation app! This is a great way to help participants orient themselves and figure out the venue. Of course, combining AR with gamification principles (in a Pokemon Go fashion) would be another route to take.
Cashless is the Way to Go
Society’s move towards a cashless world cannot be underestimated or denied… It’s more secure, more sanitary, and easier for international travellers. And, increasingly, we’re going cardless through the use of mobile apps and other innovative strategies.
No event embodied cashless better than the 2018 Winter Olympics. Through their vibrant partnership with Visa, the event was able to be an almost entirely cash-free zone. The Olympics offered three types of futuristic wearable technology for attendees.
The first were unique payment gloves, which came with a prepaid amount of money loaded onto the embedded NFC-enabled chip. These were especially great considering how cold it got!
The second were commemorative pins that came embedded with a chip and prepaid amounts of local currency.
Finally, commemorative stickers (which could be stuck onto any surface at all) came loaded with South Korean won.
These initiatives show it’s entirely possible to be creative when going cashless – and that such innovation is going to be ever more crucial!
Tech Driving Experiential Eventing
“Participants want experiences and choices and to be recognised as individuals,” says Pieter Swart, Director of Conference Consultancy South Africa. It’s been established across all parts of the sector that event-goers want to have meaningful experiences at events these days. And technology will be crucial to driving those sorts of experiences.
Take the HSBC lounge at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, which had an interactive, adaptable augmented reality model entitled Smart City. The model had been made using 3-D printing! Attendees used tablets to engage with the model. This sort of innovative uses of technology are crucial if we really want our events to be meaningful and memorable experiences for participants!
Facial recognition technology has gotten to a sophisticated enough point that using it in eventing makes perfect sense. Firstly, it can allow organisers to speed up the check in process (while making it safer to boot!)
Spring Masterminds 2018, a three-day conference in the U.S. which had 1360 attendees, used facial recognition technology to bring the average check in time to an absolutely staggering nine seconds per person! This was done through five online check-in kiosks, fitted with regular webcams and powered by Zenus Facial Recognition software. The beauty of this particular software is that it can work on any device with a camera – even a tablet or smartphone! Granted, this technology has not fully penetrated the South African market, and is certainly not mainstream at present, but certain companies are offering it to organisers (like the One2One Group in Gauteng, which provides all hardware and software needed to implement this strategy).
Facial recognition technology can also be used to monitor audience engagement and remove the need for onerous feedback forms. It can be used to track session attendance far more effectively than sign-ins or monitoring of badges (which can be forgotten or worn in such a way that is impossible to see). Faces are utterly unique and non-transferable, so monitoring who attended a session using this technology is going to be infallible. The participants’ micro-expressions can be used to understand what engagement looked like, without self-censorship.
One of the drawbacks of facial recognition, which is commonly flagged, is the invasion of privacy. What can event organisers do with that much personal data? It is concerning indeed. And there is no need to discuss futuristic tech to worry about data security, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal showed.
If participants are leaving behind a large amount of digital data, it is up to event organisers to ensure it stays protected.
The European Union has legislated data protection, but South Africa still has a way to go. That’s no excuse for industry professionals not to think about the matter, and to put protection into place!
Rick sums it up as follows: “Tech security for the event industry and its attendees is a primary concern in 2019. Beyond concerns about safeguarding their information from potential hackers, people are questioning what is being captured about their personal information and behaviour, how it is being used, and how it is being shared. The rise of data ethics, which applies concepts of right and wrong conduct in relation to data, is a trend that cannot be ignored in the events industry. As technologies that capture data proliferate, it will be interesting to see if they will be balanced with a regard for these principles. The implications of this trend for event professionals are huge.”
Virtual reality (VR) tech is making it possible to consider virtual eventing in a meaningful way. It’s already become commonplace to set up screenings of event sessions or allow paid live-stream attendees, but the future could hold entirely virtual events. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants hosts an annual virtual conference. Their most recent iteration had 17 500 registrations, 16 500 live session views, 45 000 hours of user engagement and a 200 minutes average viewer duration. These participants interacted with pre-recorded material and live Q&As with other participants. The conference website looked like a venue, with a lobby, breakaway session rooms, and even a virtual exhibition hall, but it was all on screen. It would have been nigh impossible to pull off an event this large at a ticket price of £2.20 (R41)! For large events which need to keep costs down, virtual eventing may be the way to go.
Suppliers may naturally feel concern at this trend, but the fact of the matter is events are far more than simply content-delivery vehicles in 2019. It was no shock that the trend towards experiential, memorable events coexists with the rise of virtual eventing. A live event can no longer afford to simply provide a platform for speakers; that can be done virtually. The innovative ideas that are discussed in this article cannot be executed via a screen. The more participatory and engaged an audience is, the more certain it is that they cannot replace this event with a virtual one!
So rather than seeing virtual eventing as threatening, as an industry we can perhaps look at it as an opportunity to grow and develop.