What successful person or company doesn’t want to know what the next big thing will be? Global futurist Rohit Talwar, CEO of London-based Fast Future, has been tasked with doing just that for the meetings industry. By identifying past and current drivers of change in the world at large and in meeting planning in particular, Talwar’s research has shown that the meetings industry must have greater clarity and consistency of strategic thought and action.

As project director of the Convention 2020 study on the future of meetings, venues, and destinations, Talwar released the results of the Pathfinder report at the recent IMEX 2010 exhibition in Frankfurt. “We’ve been charged with looking at the industry from an outside perspective. What we’ve found is that the industry is very good at operations. How do we learn to do the strategic piece? We expect the industry will warm up slowly to this process,” he said at a press conference.

The Pathfinder report is phase one of a three-part study, and Talwar is inviting interested strategic thinkers in the industry to further the discussion. His findings are based on a wide range of expert interviews and workshops, research, an online survey of 1,125 people, and a project wiki to identify drivers of change and emerging strategic challenges.

Among the strategic imperatives that Talwar and his team have identified for both meeting organizers and suppliers to embrace:

  • Choose a clear strategic position: innovator, fast follower, or low-cost, no-frills provider. Then, ensure that all actions and decisions are consistent with that strategy. Be brave enough to say no to business that doesn’t fit your capabilities.
  • Develop your management into an outward-looking and future-focused entity that is helping to shape and challenge longer-term strategy.
  • Develop a clear set of strategies to manage technology, exploit the data generated through your events, and create “reusable knowledge” that has lasting value long after the event.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to experiment with business models and create new revenue streams to anticipate and address future demands for greater financial innovation and risk-sharing from all event partners.
  • Develop and recruit top level talent that can understand how a client’s business strategies are evolving and develop equally strategic and innovative responses.
The Near Horizon
Talwar’s report also focused on the near horizon, that is, which external trends and “weak signals” are likely to grow in importance in the next three years. Among them:
  • Generational issues: There are now five generations in the workforce. How can we design events that truly cater to the different needs of multiple generations?
  • Emergent social behaviors and beliefs: How can we satisfy a customer base with declining attention spans, who expect to be always on, consulted, offered value-for-money, are not afraid to ask “why,” and who have a zero tolerance of failure?
  • Personalization: What does event-level personalization look like—is it only about technology?
  • Social interactivity: From tweets to flash-mobs to completing a successful mission in “World of Warcraft,” the desire for individual and group-level participatory interaction appears to be increasing. Which event models best facilitate such high levels of interaction?
  • The “ICT” assault: The information and communications technology sectors are bringing many products and services to market that could benefit the meetings industry while at the same mounting an aggressive campaign to promote the environmental, time, and cost savings of meeting electronically rather than holding face-to-face gatherings. How can the industry find smart ways to demonstrate the strategically important role physical meetings still play and where they fit in the spectrum of alternatives?

Phase 2 of the Convention 2020 study runs from June to October 2010 and will focus on exploring the implications of the phase 1 findings for different segments of the industry and on defining a range of possible strategies and event models in response to those findings. Talwar is planning a variety of research activities to help explore these questions including a number of workshops at key locations around the world.

The founding sponsors for the study are the International Congress and Convention Association, IMEX, and Fast Future Research. The platinum sponsors for the study are The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre London, Visit London, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Qatar National Convention Centre, Seoul Tourism Organization, Athens Convention Bureau, Congrex, and BestCities Global Alliance (Cape Town, Copenhagen, Dubai, Edinburgh, Melbourne, San Juan, Singapore, and Vancouver). Kenes is the first gold sponsor. The technology partners are Meetings:Review and TrendWiki.

The full Pathfinder report is available for download. The final report from the study will be released later this year in October at the ICCA Congress in Hyderabad, India.