by Michael J. Shapiro | January 01, 2017

5. Internet of Things.   The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the idea that any powered device can be connected to the Internet. That means not only our smartphones, tablets, laptops, televisions and video-game consoles, but also our refrigerators, washing machines, light fixtures, security cameras and coffee makers. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Analysts don't all agree on the number of connected devices we'll see by 2020, but nearly every estimate exceeds 24 billion. That's an awful lot of connectivity.

For conferences, trade shows and other large gatherings, the technology will be less about home appliances and more about Internet-connected cameras and sensors. The idea is the same: Information will be noted by devices and reported via the Internet. From home, your refrigerator can alert you when you're low on milk. A conference venue's sensors will report to the organizers or venue managers about the arrival of VIPs, an overheated meeting room or a dearth of foot traffic in an exhibit aisle. IoT means people will simply know more things faster and, ideally, will be able to efficiently take action accordingly.

Because the Internet of Things depends on solid network connectivity, venues are investing in infrastructures that can make IoT work. Take, for example, the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre. When the venue was renovated four years ago, the owners rebuilt the infrastructure around an extremely robust WiFi system -- one that can accommodate up to 10,000 devices simultaneously.

 

At the IoT bridge:
Suntec Singapore Convention
Centre CEO Arun Madhok

The goal of the venue is to be able to provide a "seamless, connected, immersive experience" to every show organizer, according to the Suntec Centre's CEO, Arun Madhok. Today, the building operations themselves run off of this same interconnected high-bandwidth system available to show organizers. For example, when someone moves dividing walls in the meetings spaces via the building's control center, the AC units and the built-in speaker system separate automatically, reconfiguring themselves for the new room setup. When a VIP attendee with an RFID badge enters the building, tiny sensors embedded in the ceiling can read the badge and trigger the enormous high-definition screen covering the wall to display a welcome message to that attendee. "Increasingly, people want to be wowed," says Madhok. Investment in IoT infrastructure is one way to make that happen. 

6. Virtual reality. Over the past two years, virtual reality has evolved from sci-fi shtick into something far more practical in our industry. Because technology has improved and production costs have come down, VR is now a reasonable way to showcase a destination or room setup. Thanks to Google Cardboard, a cheap set of goggles and a smartphone is all anyone needs to experience a virtual site inspection.

 

Virtual dip: The Yucatán booth
at Tianguis Turístico

Of course, VR also can be used to surprise and delight. Attendees at last year's SXSW event, for instance, were able to virtually tour Anheuser-Busch's brewery via Budweiser's Immersive Tour and Beer Garage. Participants could "walk" through the brewery via VR goggles, and could even smell the hops via applied scent technology. 

"What's so amazing about VR right now is that anyone can start experimenting," says FreemanXP's director of technology solutions, David Haas. "The technology is here; it isn't the hard part anymore. It's all about using your imagination."

For site-selection purposes, hotels, convention centers and other venues are investing in 360-degree photography to create virtual-tour experiences for planners. In the coming year, expect to see more 360-degree tours of a venue's meeting rooms, with different room setups available as well. 

7. Wearables for payment. Payments made from mobile and wearable devices are projected to reach nearly $100 billion globally by 2018, according to U.K.-based Juniper Research, with both smartwatches and wristbands the fastest-growing source of those payments. That means the general public is going to grow a lot more accustomed to paying for stuff with a wave of their smartwatch- and bracelet-clad wrists, thanks to current and near-future innovations like Apple Pay, Android Pay and fitness devices from Jawbone and Fitbit. For events, one high-profile example is Disney's MagicBand, and the company's just-released MagicBand 2.

 

All in the wrist:
Disney's MagicBand is used
for cashless payment and much more.

Disney's approach to wearables is already robust, as the MagicBand acts not only as a payment method, but also as a hotel room key, parking ticket, FastPass for selected rides and identifier for on-site photos. The bracelets also are collectible fashion accessories in their own right, some being produced in limited editions. 

Expect to see a lot of innovation around wearable payments for events over the next couple of years, and look for them to become increasingly multifunctional. A free attendee wristband that counts your steps, guides you to your next meeting and lets you pay for lunch is just around the corner. 

8. Intelligent use of show data. Underlying the significance of many of the innovations on our list is data and our access to it. Getting that data and knowing what to do with it is fast becoming one of the most important aspects of the planner job description. It's key to understanding customers and proving the value of events.

Intelligent use of data gleaned from trade-show exhibitions traditionally has been one of the greatest challenges, which means it's now fertile ground for new innovation. The ability to get real-time data and take action on it during a trade show is a game changer.

Next-generation lead-retrieval platforms such as Momencio are leading that charge, providing context around a scanned badge and potential lead, and allowing salespeople to immediately build a relationship with that person. When a badge is scanned into the Momencio platform, the interaction is immediately visible in a real-time dashboard in an iPad app. Salespeople can track engagement and follow-up with each lead and track visitation numbers throughout the day, from the show floor. Follow-ups are automated, prompt and delivered directly through the platform -- which means business cards needn't pile up and no booth interaction will be forgotten.

9. Fueling engagement with social media. Social media for marketing is one thing, but once on-site, social media should fuel face-to-face engagement, not detract from it by burying attendee faces in their phones.

Companies like EventsTag and SocialPoint create physical meeting points that draw attendees via social media channels. In the best cases, they convert virtual interaction into face-to-face engagement. Social hubs and walls display an event's social media posts in a central, visible location, serving as both news feed and meeting place. SocialPoint adds an element of competition to many of its solutions, drawing attendees to displays with leaderboards and trivia games. EventsTag also offers hardware such as Polaroid and postcard printers, where Instagram posts and tweets can be printed or even mailed.

Social media participants who engage at an event are more likely to continue their conversations once the show ends, via Instagram, Twitter and more. That may be more valuable than any number of traded business cards.

10. Virtual interactions.
 Our business depends on human interaction, and it's worth reminding ourselves that a lower-tech, more personalized approach can easily upstage flashier technology. While $30,000 telepresence rooms and VR site visits have their place, sometimes the best innovations are simply ways that make it easier to interact with people and destinations from afar.

Georama is an excellent example, a real-time virtual-tour platform that facilitates destination research, site inspections, tours and field trips from anywhere, on virtually any device. Planners schedule and pay online for a virtual tour, and in return they get a live video exploration, from a knowledgeable guide, at the agreed time. Whether a walk-through of the Anaheim Marriott or a guided tour of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, a live guide can answer questions as the tour progresses. Venues and destinations also can license the technology to offer such tours.