Top 10 Meetings Innovations

Top 10 Meetings Innovations opener

2. Biometrics
Your fingers and eyes could make your credit cards, concert tickets and event passes obsolete. Fingerprint and iris scans already are widely used to verify identity and can be used as a form of payment by associating a biometric profile with a credit card number. CLEAR, the company behind expedited security lanes at airports, seeks to drive biometric innovations in the meetings and travel space. By the end of this month, CLEAR kiosks will be in 22 airports nationally; by the end of the year, expect to see them in many more airports, as well as stadiums, convention centers and other venues. 

CLEAR is, essentially, a machine that confirms your identity via finger tap or iris scan, notes Caryn Seidman Becker, chairman and CEO of the company. The platform, poised to pass the million-user mark this month, uses biometrics and data analysis to streamline security and improve the customer experience. 

In airports, CLEAR speeds up the identify-verification part of the security process. Instead of waiting for TSA agents to check IDs and boarding passes, CLEAR members step up to touch-and-go kiosks that read fingerprints or iris scans. From there, a CLEAR agent escorts them to the physical screening point, bypassing the line of "regular" passengers. 

That can easily cut an hour out of a typical airport experience. To maximize the potential benefits to its members, CLEAR is developing an application-programming interface (API), so that third parties can plug in and take advantage of the same biometric technology. 

As for privacy concerns, customer data is never shared nor sold, assures Seidman Becker.

CLEAR already has successfully piloted its technology for other uses, such as cashless payment for airport purchases. The coming year should be a breakout one for implementation of such features, predicts CLEAR's CEO.

For conventions, biometric ID verification can add a layer of security, becoming one's registration verification, a ticket to related events or access to restricted areas. 

CLEAR's vision is that any "closed-loop ecosystem," such as airports, theme parks, arenas, convention centers or universities, can benefit from biometrics, improving the user experience and allowing staff to focus on delighting the customer. 

Delta Air Lines is among suppliers that have embraced the concept. The airline gives free or discounted membership to its frequent flyers. - LOREN G. EDELSTEIN

Over the past few years, some brilliant, often disruptive ideas have changed the nature of the travel and meetings business. M&C's third annual look at top meeting innovations presents 10 more of these developments, some already at work in the marketplace, and all promising to make waves in the future.

1. Artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence refers to the way computers and software "learn," essentially adjusting to human behavior to improve their performance and utility. You'd be hard-pressed to find a tech trend generating more buzz than AI. Uber just made headlines by acquiring New York City-based AI startup Geometric Intelligence, which it is spinning off as its new Uber AI Labs division. The acquisition gives the rides app a leg up on its development of self-driving cars. That new division also will be focused on the more immediate and practical concerns of better estimating rider locations and travel time. 

Artificial intelligence is of paramount interest throughout the travel industry. AI-driven chatbots and virtual assistants, for instance, will see to it that our smartphones soon become our own mobile travel agents, responding to spoken requests to book flights and hotels.

The U.K.-based tech company Grip is getting a lot of attention in the meetings industry by using AI to process attendee profiles and behavior data to make matchmaking suggestions for professional networking. Grip has opened up its application-programming interface so that event-app and registration providers can simply integrate the technology for events. Grip emerged the winner at the #IMEXpitch technology competition at IMEX America last October. 

3. Cloud-based solutions. Since seemingly forever, many meeting planners have been heavily reliant on Excel spreadsheets, resisting more automated systems. Granted, this isn't solely about the slow adoption of new technologies; in many cases, meetings-management platforms simply haven't been customizable enough to meet every planner's specific needs. With each year, though, the latest platforms deliver new innovations in the service of Excel-slaying, cloud-based collaboration.

Shoflo, which took home the Tech & Innovation Watch Award at IBTM World late last year in Barcelona, Spain, is a collaborative online platform that focuses on the production logistics of an event. Schedules, production run-downs and cue sheets, and other on-site event documents can be shared and edited in real time, from any device, using the platform. 

A number of innovative cloud-based collaboration tools have emerged in recent years, from companies like EventCollab and Hubb, and Shoflo reveals a natural progression. It delivers the on-the-fly, real-time control necessary to ensure programs are flawlessly executed. 

With an ever-increasing variety of cloud-based platforms making their way into the marketplace, ditching quickly outdated paper schedules and still-ubiquitous Excel documents just might be an attainable goal after all.

4. Second-screen technology. The motivation behind second-screen technology is to harness the power of the smartphone in nearly every attendee's hand -- and to use that power for good rather than evil. In other words, it makes the mobile device an engagement tool and not a distraction. Second-screen tech has all but replaced audience-response systems. But what's most innovative now are the improved implementations that are proving the effectiveness of the technology when it's used in thoughtful ways.

Case in point: At its October 2016 annual meeting in New Orleans, the American Society of Landscape Architects partnered with FreemanXP to use FXP |touch, Freeman's second-screen tool, at its general session panel about diversity in design. "We knew it needed to be a two-way conversation, and we needed to engage our members in the process," notes Susan Apollonio, education programs director at the ASLA.  

Like many second-screen tools, FXP|touch, which is accessed via a mobile website, allows attendees to chat, ask questions of the presenter and take notes on slides, all to improve engagement with presentations. 

At its general-session diversity panel, ASLA pushed questions to attendees about demographics and diversity through the tool. Responses were broken down and displayed onscreen in real time, onstage. During the presentation, attendees submitted questions to the panelists. Apollonio and the Freeman­XP team organized and filtered the questions in the background.

Audience questions were then posed to the panelists -- not during the session, but for a "Continue the Conversation" meeting afterward in the adjacent expo hall. Attendees moved en masse to the expo, eager to discuss the questions they submitted and engage with the panelists in a more informal setting.

Not only was conversation lively, the setup accomplished the additional goal of bringing more attendees to the show floor. "It was a tremendous success," says Apollonio. "It literally brought our audience close to our speakers. For me, as a techno-skeptic, that's what makes technology great -- when it can bring people together."

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
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
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.
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.