by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | June 16, 2016
A rendition of the expanded Miami Beach Convention Center, which will include new public outdoor space.
American economist Paul Romer once said that the difficulty of predicting the future is that "possibilities do not add up, they multiply". While technology will continue to drive global changes in the meetings industry with innovations like eletronic RFPs, increasingly sophisticated meetings software and apps and social media platforms, mega trends on the horizon look set to have further impact.

Rapid globalisation will see emerging markets become major meeting destinations; and hotels and convention centres will push the boundaries of innovative design and sustainability.

At the same time, providing meaningful content that appeals to multiple generations, across different learning styles and expectations, will become even more critical. In short, as attendees' expectations grow, engineering an exciting, diverse and creative event is going to get more challenging.

Here, a look at these four trends, culled from the predictions of experts, forecasters and futurists, that will shape the future of meetings and events in the next five to 10 years.

Convention centres reimagined

In January, during a workshop at the Professional Convention Management Association's Convening Leaders Conference in Chicago, architects from Populous, a Kansas City, Mo.-based architecture and design firm, sat down with planners from across the globe to find out their challenges, and expectations for future convention centres.

One idea that was floated was vertical convention centre towers. Each tower would comprise four stacked units - each with its own myriad of exhibit spaces - that could be combined or sold individually for different events. That design, says Michael Lockwood, architect and senior principal at Populous, who was part of the team, "would give each event its own sense of place, instead of feeling like
one event in a much larger facility."

Other ideas include the introduction of more natural light to meeting spaces; creating more social hubs; putting speakers in prefunction areas rather than on a stage; and food and beverage stations that transition from lunch cafe to evening cocktail lounge. Also on the shortlist were "teleportation pods" that allow users private face time with colleagues or family; and fitness opportunities like bike-share programmes and rock-climbing walls.

"As architects, we will ultimately design these facilities," says Lockwood. "But as collaborative designers, we work with nonarchitects to creatively shape the future."

The year 2020 will see a dramatically transformed Los Angeles Convention Center.
Populous is the architectural design team behind the $350 million renovation of the Losin 2020, it will extend the centre into the city's LA Live District and feature four times more natural light and lots of open spaces, including an outdoor ballroom and landscaped public areas. In tandem, the city is retrofitting 7,242 kilometres of streetlights with technology that responds to what's going on in the vicinity. For instance, lights might blink if an ambulance is on its way, or brighten for pedestrians after a ball game.

Similarly, while the design of the $500 million expansion of the Miami Beach Convention Centre includes cutting-edge features like a huge vortex-shaped media screen in the lobby, it also embraces the city as an outdoor destination with plans for outdoor meeting spaces, tropical gardens and lawns, as well as pavilions and shaded gardens. The expansion should wrap in January 2018.

Evolving hotel design

Hotels will keep introducing increasingly advanced technology, from high-tech multi-use lobbies and robot butlers to sci-fi amenities like fingerprint and retina scans and the ability to control temperature and lighting from smartphones.

Some hotels, such as the 431-room NH Collection Eurobuilding in Madrid, Spain, already offer a 3-D telepresence system in so-called Smart Rooms, allowing meeting attendees to interact with people remotely via hologram. "Our plan is to continue increasing the number of Smart Rooms in our other hotels in Europe that do a lot of meetings business," says Rufino Pérez, chief commercial officer for Madridbased NH.

Other innovative design elements gradually rolling out in the marketplace include smaller guest rooms with larger bathrooms. Mike Tiedy, senior vice president, global brand design and innovation,
at Stamford, Conn.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, says positioning the lobby as the place to work and connect has allowed the chain's select-service brands, such as Aloft and Element, to shrink the size of guest rooms to an essentials-only model. "The room becomes a comfy nest with everything you need at your fingertips," he says.

In countries like China and Dubai, architects and engineers are pushing the boundaries of infrastructure design by building hotels in more nontraditional settings.

In Songjiang, China, the lavish 400-room Waterworld Hotel is being carved into the edge of an abandoned quarry, along a man-made lagoon. Its lobby, several restaurants and many public areas will be beneath the water. And Dubai's new US$1.4 billion Royal Atlantis Resort and Residences, to open in 2018, will be a high-tech design featuring a series of glass boxes, stacked Lego-style, that blend into the city's futuristic skyline. Each of the 800 guest rooms will have private infinity pools and gardens, and hotel amenities will include luxury boutiques, gaming and celebrity-chef restaurants.

Food will continue to be a focus, as the hospitality industry increasingly turns to locally sourced farm-to-table products as part of a commitment to sustainability and to entice guests to dine on-site. Last June, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts rolled out Sheraton 2020, a 10-point, five-year plan to put the brand back in the global spotlight. The effort includes "Paired," a new F&B concept featuring artisanal small plates, eclectic bar snacks, premiums wines and microbrew beers. "We're introducing fun and exciting food pairings, which will offer our guests enriching and memorable culinary moments in our hotels," says Dave Marr, global brand leader for Sheraton.

Emerging markets

While China has been a prime focus of every major hotel chain for the past five years, today, Africa, the Middle East and several Asian countries are hot on its heels. According to the 2014 Deloitte Consumer Review, Africa: A 21st Century View, the African economy is expected to grow by 7.7 percent every year through 2019, about double the rate of advanced economies. And, like China, it has a
growing middle class keen to consume luxury brands and travel.

Marriott International, which became the largest hotel operator in Africa after its 2014 acquisition of Protea Hotels, South Africa's leading lodging group, plans to expand its portfolio from 10 African countries to 18 across seven brands. "With more than 850 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, there are enormous opportunities," notes Alex Kyriakidis, president and managing director of the Middle East and Africa for Marriott International.

Likewise, Starwood Hotels & Resorts expects to grow its African portfolio, now at 34, by 50 percent in the next five years across nine of its 10 brands. "The momentum of growth we are seeing in Africa today is unprecedented," said Michael Wale, president for Starwood, Europe, Africa and Middle East, in a statement. "Demand for quality lodging will continue to grow and provide us with the opportunity to expand our brands and support emerging markets."

Even Airnb has taken note. Last July, at the Global Entrepreneurial Summit 2015 held in Nairobi, Kenya, Brian Chesky, CEO of the San Francisco-based company, said the service had already seen an increase of 145 percent in Africa in the past year, and that it planned to capture an even bigger share of the 60 million visitors to the country each year, particularly in Kenya and South Africa.

The Middle East is another region to watch. Recently rated by the International Congress and Convention Association as the world's fastest growing market for international association meetings, factors like improved convention facilities, increased airlift, a robust hotel pipeline and, in some cases, reduced visa requirements make the growth potential for the region's MICE sector exceptional. "The Middle East will enjoy more international meeting activity in the future based on these underlying fundamentals," said Martin Sirk, ICCA's CEO, in a statement announcing ICCA's findings.

In 2016, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will begin a strategic marketing campaign aimed at attracting MICE business. Like the European Union model, the 10 member states that make up ASEAN - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - have broken down trade barriers, and hospitality is one market segment likely to benefit.

French historian Alexis de Tocqueville famously said, "Among democratic nations, each generation is a new people." Today, the term "generation", argues futurist, author and speaker Tom Koulopoulos, founder of Andover, Mass.-based Delphi Group, is defined more by the technology its members use than their age. That translates into different learning styles, which will pose a challenge for
educators.

For planners, the goal will be to deliver education in a setting that appeals to multiple generations. Traditional meeting rooms might work for some attendees, but others might prefer distance learning or informal settings.

Last October, Laura d'Elsa, regional director USA and Canada for the German Convention Bureau, presented a study on the IMEX trade-show floor titled "What's Ahead? Innovation @ Future Meeting Space," the fruits of a project between the German Convention Bureau, the European Association of Event Centers and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering.

"One thing we looked at was the use of non-traditional venues as meeting spaces," says d'Elsa. "In Hamburg, there are many beautiful old theatres that are used by day as meeting venues, and transition into night-time entertainment spaces."

The study also found that millennials, in particular, want to be involved in education, rather than just follow an itinerary. In this regard, a trend known as Bar Camp (barcamp. org) is building steam, says d'Elsa. These face-to-face meetings have a theme, but attendees decide on the content by voting on ideas at the event's start. "It might not work for a huge convention, but it is something we are seeing with smaller groups," says d'Elsa. "If attendees are pushing the content they want to see, they will be more engaged."

A PEEK INTO THE FUTURE OF AIRLINE TRAVEL

Flying today is anything but glamorous. Narrow seats, shrunken leg room and fewer creature comforts have left flyers feeling grumpy. The Airbus Concept Cabin of 2050, showcased at the 49 Paris Airshow in 2011, aims to change that. The idea is to deliver a new experience from today's cattle-class saga. "Our research shows that passengers of 2050 will expect a seamless travel experience, while also caring for the environment," says Charles Champion, executive vice president of engineering for Airbus. "He or she will step out of the Airbus Concept Cabin feeling revitalised and enriched."

Here, design features to expect:
+ Auto-morphing seats, tailored to individual needs
+ Seats that can swivel or move together
+ A viewing deck with floor-toceiling windows (see image above)
+ A centralised bar-and-meeting space for socialising
+ A sports lounge for inflight physical activity