Where will we meet in the future, cyberspace or “real” space? That is a question addressed in the fifth and final topic paper of the Future of Meetings project conducted by the Meeting Professionals International Foundation in partnership with the International Centre for Research in Events, Tourism and Hospitality at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K. Titled “From the Outside In: Meeting Distribution,” the paper echoes a sentiment heard since the dawn of videoconferencing: The virtual is no threat to the real, and face-to-face meetings are here to stay.

Global Teaching

In fact, some of the largest trends on the horizon may prompt more meetings than ever—globalization, for example. “If 20 years ago, roughly 200 companies in the world were working with 15 to 20 major consumer markets, now that is probably 50 to 60. And in 10 years, it will be 80 to 90. This means that there are decent consumer markets and valuable infrastructure projects that will need to take place and will require people to meet up,” says Paul Flatters, chief executive of social and consumer trends firm Trajectory.

Dr. Cathy Barnes, professor of retail innovation at Leeds (U.K.) Metropolitan University adds, “Global mobilization and the fact that companies are working across continents and countries mean it will be important for employees to have language skills and a real understanding of different cultures. Companies will need entrepreneurial skills so that they can pick up on opportunities in emerging economies and get there ahead of the competition. This has implications for the meeting industry, as it will require people meeting people to get in the hearts and minds of those populations.”

(As in the previous MPI Future of Meetings papers, comments in this fifth release are from writers, teachers, and thinkers outside the meetings industry, working in fields such as science, population, technology, digital media, and business, and from economists and futurists.)

Oil’s Implications

“Peak oil” doesn’t come up much at meetings industry conferences, but commenters in MPI’s topic paper peg it as a major issue. Peak oil is the point of maximum oil production, after which comes the phase of decline that some observers see triggering economic trouble because of global dependence on oil.

According to Barnes of Leeds Met, it’s a critical concern in retail.

“Some say we have reached peak oil; some predict it will be in the next five to 15 years,” she says. “Oil will become a scarce resource. It will be more expensive, and this will have a huge impact on travel and manufacturing. All of our plastics come from oil, too. So a rethink on raw materials in the future will be necessary.”

Because travel will be so much more expensive (“the golden age of budget travel is over,” says Flatters of Trajectory), the focus on meeting costs will intensify. “Pressures on costs will remain prominent for businesses in the meeting industry,” says Dr. Rhodri Thomas, director of the International Centre for Research in Events, Tourism and Hospitality at Leeds Metropolitan University. “It will simply become more expensive for people to meet. Meetings will continue, but it creates a pressure for organizations to look at cutting costs in other ways.”

Cost is not the only implication of peak oil. Finding alternative energy sources relates as well, which may heat up the simmering efforts of the meetings industry to reduce carbon emissions and find more eco-friendly ways of traveling and gathering. And if we’re really innovative, those ways will be more cost-effective as well.

Future Space

Within meeting spaces, “environment” also means the conditions in which attendees are learning and connecting. According to Robert Hopkins, associate director at architecture firm Aedas, educational buildings are being designed based on new scientific information. For example, “a 3 percent reduction in hydration gives a 70 percent reduction in concentration,” he says. “We know more about carbon dioxide and light levels and how they impact experience. The quality of space is critical in improving educational outcomes.”

Meanwhile, the paper suggests that the hospitality industry still hasn’t figured out how to offer ad-hoc meeting spaces within hotels and other meeting venues. (Which must, of course, have free Wi-Fi.)

The initial findings of the MPI Foundation Future of Meetings project were released in October at the IMEX America event in Las Vegas. The first paper in the series covered meeting design with regard to technology; the second looked at meeting design and the attendee experience; the third considered meeting content; and the fourth, meeting communications