Exhibition News February 2019 - Page 63

COLUMN: INDUSTRY VIEW New horizons Rachel Parker, director of the Associatio of Event Venues, on the association’s 15th birthday and what the future might hold L ike the moment on a long walk where you stop to take a breath, glance back and marvel at the ground you’ve covered, the AEV’s 15th birthday this year has made us think about just how far we’ve come, and the changes we’ve seen on the way. The landscape behind us seems very familiar, but when the AEV was first constituted, The O2 was still the Millennium Dome, Manchester Central was still called GMEX, the wonderful Earls Court was a busy, thriving venue, and ExCeL London, an AEV founder member, was a relative newcomer to the capital. We can look back on plenty of achievements during the last 15 years, and while it’s fun to remember a time when MySpace was the latest thing in ‘social media’, and about a quarter of us had broadband internet, we have to keep looking to new horizons. Reflecting on this from the AEV’s perspective, there’s plenty to look forward to in the short term. The association has a new chair, Dan Thurlow. Our working groups are asking to meet more frequently, and already collaborating in smaller, cross- association groups to find pragmatic solutions to shared issues and challenges more quickly. Obviously, there are obstacles to future planning, not least that the further forward you look, the hazier the picture becomes. I know, for example, that we’re planning to celebrate our 15th birthday in a few different ways this year. If you were to ask me what the world of events is going to look like in another 15 years from the venue perspective it’s clear that new venues will be built, existing venues will expand and diversify just as they are now, and new venues will join the market, to vie for a share of the burgeoning variety of new events. The range of places and buildings that now offer venue services is almost unbelievable, and the trend is for greater diversity in location and character. But the rate of change in the location and character of venues is sedate, compared to the rush of new technological applications. Reliable facial recognition and artificial intelligence coupled with the surge of ‘voice agents’ like Siri, Alexa, Cortana, or Google, means that the experience of attending an event is going to change radically over the next decade and half. The audiences of tomorrow aren’t going to stand in a queue for registration at a conference, they’ll expect to be able walk right in, they’ll talk to their device and ask it for directions to the nearest vegan food outlet or ask it locate another delegate. Machine translation will give events the option for simultaneous translation “It’s up to the whole industry to keep the trust and interest of audiences as well as bring them the experiences of their lifetimes” without a booth full of interpreters. Given the unknown expectations, and the rapidly changing technological landscape, not to mention curve-balls like Brexit, it may seem impossible to prepare our businesses and our industries for whatever is coming. Part of the solution has to be building resilience throughout the industry. Naturally, I believe that building strong trade associations is essential to that goal. There are straightforward benefits of membership, like access to industry surveys and data, or best practice guidelines, but it’s through building a broader and larger community of venues, suppliers and organisers that we will be able to withstand the kind of shocks and rapid changes that might characterise the next 15 years. We will need to be deft and agile, responding to audience expectations, but leading them too. It’s up to the whole industry to keep the trust and interest of audiences as well as bring them the experiences of their lifetimes. That is going to require a leap forward in sustainability and sustainability collaboration across the whole industry. We will need to use the ballooning quantity of data collected by events in imaginative but, more importantly, transparent and ethical ways. And we’re going to need to treat every individual audience member as a VIP without devaluing premium offerings, making their visit a bespoke experience, tailored to their needs and preferences. 15 years from now it will be the talented young people joining the industry today who are going to be the ones looking back, chuckling at the clunky technology and primitive devices, wondering how we managed. But, like us, they will be living and working in a world of increasingly rapid change, and will need to reach for new horizons to stay competitive and thrive. exhibitionnews.co.uk | February 2019 63