Experience creation takes centre stage in IACC’s Meeting Room of the Future Barometer

Mike Fletcher explores the findings of IACC’s latest study of global meeting and venue trends. 

The demand for ‘creative spaces’ that offer memorable alternatives to more traditional venues and hotels is on the rise according to the latest Meeting Room of the Future Barometer from the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC).

The report, featuring insights from 275 global planners, highlights the importance of ‘experience creation’ in today’s MICE programmes.

Four out of every five respondents to IACC’s 2023 survey agree that ‘experience creation’ is now more important than it was before the pandemic. The Australia- Asia-Pacific and Europe regions recorded the highest levels of agreement with this statement at 90%. 

In an age where virtual attendance at meetings and events is not only possible but also now prevalent, people need more reasons to show up in person than ever before. The desire for human connection, more meaningful travel and authentic local experiences are three key factors planners currently prioritise when sourcing venues and designing events.

Compared to 2019 (the last time IACC conducted its study), the ‘Most important aspects of meetings in support of meeting objectives’ remain the educational content and the opportunity to connect and network with peers. 

However, the ‘physical characteristics of a venue’ and ‘access to local authentic experiences’ have both risen in importance - up to third and fourth place from fourth and sixth respectively. 

Notable differences across global regions include Africa where offering authentic local experiences is equally as important as the content of the meeting. While in Europe, the venue’s food and beverage offering is the most crucial consideration.

Planners were then asked to select the most important venue elements. Location and access came out on top, followed by the flexibility of spaces to be tailored to any event. 

These ‘must haves’ are consistent with the findings from 2019. But the ‘food and beverage offer’ has replaced ‘access to interactive technology’ as the third most important venue element. 

IACC’s Meeting Room of the Future Barometer further shows that the ‘must have’ physical elements of venues include high-quality broadband, good meeting room acoustics, and effective room lighting.

Good acoustics have risen in importance, from a score of 8.6 in 2017 to 8.9 in 2023, leapfrogging lighting as the second highest priority.

Similarly, natural light has also grown increasingly important, with planners less likely to consider spaces without natural light than they were in 2019.

When asked how the pandemic has impacted venue searches, meeting planners highlighted several new priorities that are likely to remain in the long term. These relate to the need for more space, access to the outdoors and natural light, plus the rise of hybrid events and associated technology.

Another key factor in the rising role of technology in meetings and events is the influence of younger generations as both organisers and attendees.

Four out of five respondents agreed that Generation Z is driving increased integration of new technology, particularly smartphones, in events.

They are also influencing changes in event formats. Shorter attention spans and an increased emphasis on the experience has seen meetings move away from the long-form lecture style to more interactive and immersive formats.

When planners were asked ‘What forms of technology are the most pressing for meetings taking place in the next three years?’, affordable, high-speed wireless internet was selected by most respondents (37%) - perhaps unsurprisingly with the rise of hybrid meetings.

Strong data security came second (23%), followed by interactive technology (16%).

Similarly, when asked ‘What types of new technology have you implemented since the start of the pandemic?’, virtual streaming was the most common response.

Event-dedicated apps were the second most implemented technology and ‘live polling or digital surveys’ was the third most implemented event technology.

While strong connectivity is essential for meeting planners, interestingly, opinions are divided on whether internet access should be free at venues, with just under half (47%) suggesting they would still consider a venue without free internet.

Planners were then asked to rank different elements of a venue’s social responsibility credentials.

Accessibility came out on top followed by a venue’s ‘human responsibility’ credentials, such as its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies.

A venue’s ‘vitality’ credentials that promote healthy living, such as healthy food, air quality and fitness facilities ranked as third most important.

Worryingly, climate-friendly policies ranked as the least important overall, with 71% of respondents placing it in either third or fourth place.

This apparent disregard for environmental policies is however skewed by the larger sample of respondents from the Americas. Looking at the rankings for the rest of the world excluding the Americas, climate-conscious venue strategies actually rank as the most sought-after social responsibility credential. 

The importance of sustainable F&B is also more divided between the Americas and the rest of the world. Some 75% of Europeans consider a venue’s sustainable food sourcing credentials compared to just 39% for the Americas.

Common frustrations with venue F&B offerings include high costs and low value for money; rigid menus with a lack of flexibility; unhealthy food; a lack of options for dietary requirements including vegetarians/vegans; and food wastage.

One last notable trend IACC’s Meeting Room of the Future Barometer highlights is that many planners feel frustrated when a venue’s F&B does not represent the local or regional cuisine.

In line with the importance of ‘experience creation’ and the rise of meaningful travel, attendees want to truly engage with the destinations they are travelling to.

Download the full Meeting Room of the Future Barometer report from IACC here.

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