by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Back again in Frankfurt
We were back in Frankfurt again for IMEX16, the 14th edition of an exhibition that constantly pushes itself outside of its comfort zone while remaining rooted to the understanding that it’s all about connecting real people in real places in real time.
This year I opted out of the well organized transportation system and enjoyed 30 minute walks each morning and evening from my beautiful home at the Jumeirah Hotel to the Messe . It was wonderful to be part of the pulsating life of the city as Frankfurt nonchalantly went about its business on the threshold of spring. Mornings were chilly, bright and steely blue, evenings were warm with promise and potential. I walked through cherry blossomed neighbourhoods, past coffee shops and bakeries and enjoyed a sense of participation in the everyday life of a lovely city that I’ve become very fond of.
The Sharing Economy and the Meetings Industry
Amongst the many highlights of a densely packed week of robust business exchange, hearty networking and powerful education was a session on “The Sharing Economy and the Meetings Industry”. I was privileged to co-plan the session with Dale Hudson of IMEX and co-present with Greg Oates of Skift. At the session we launched the results of IMEX’s recent survey on The Sharing Economy while presenting 4 diverse perspectives on the topic from the start-up, entrepreneur and agency sides.
The survey generated well over 700 responses from “meetings professionals” – a very decent sampling when compared with other meetings industry research – and revealed a sharp distinction in the use of sharing economy enterprises between respondents as private consumers and as industry professionals. Many used Airbnb and Uber in their private lives but remained skeptical about their use for business purposes, quoting lack of regulations, safety issues and fiscal implications to back up their contention. While the results varied quite substantially across the global geographies, meetingprofs in the mature, advanced geographies (particularly the US and Germany) expressed the greatest skepticism about the sharing economy as a real and viable channel of our industry.
But they’d have to have this viewpoint, wouldn’t they? Based on present business models, the Sharing Economy cannot but harm the business of agencies, hotels and transportation companies. The Sharing Economy is yet another example of the disintermediation visited upon our industry by the Digital revolution. First it hit the DMCs whose business model was largely mark-ups, mark-ons and commissions. When Airbnb – and its future nameless competitors – build out sourcing functionality for groups, the digital revolution will overturn all non exclusively fee based intermediaries.
So the intermediary community is now one big walking target but the real disruption caused by the Sharing Economy is the disintermediation of the supplier community itself. Now hotels and transport companies are have shiny new competitors in the form of highly desirable, previously invisible inventory in private homes and vehicles. In his opening remarks to the seminar Greg Oates shared some images of his accommodations in Frankfurt: a comfortable, spacious studio apartment; a leafy suburb with a local coffee shop; a map showing the 15 minute cab ride to the Messe; a bill highlighting an overnight rate of €61. Any hotel amongst the 700 meeting professionals surveyed by IMEX would be crazy to endorse such a channel. It’d be turkeys voting for Christmas.
But endorsement from the hotel community (or the transport community if we include Uber in the discussion) is neither necessary, relevant nor required. Conference delegates are voting with their feet with as many as 30,000 of the 100,000 who attended the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona opting for the Sharing Economy alternative. All that can stop the Sharing Economy at this stage is legislation but that too will be surmounted in time as lack of city wide capacity and subsequent loss of civic revenue will force legislators to accommodate to these new channels.
Spacebace, Showslice and Vizeat
IMEX brought together three sharing economy entrepreneurs along with a brave and courageous intermediary to generate discussion and debate around the new channel. Jan Hoffman-Keining told the story of how his start-up, SpaceBase, began as a result of his frustration at finding inspirational spaces for business meetings. His on-line platform now brings thousands of truly alternative locations to the meetings market – photo studios, lofts, rooms in other people’s offices. Jan’s presentation drew an enthusiastic response via the audience engagement platform, MeetingSphere, but some commentators wondered about safety issues in non-regulated, isolated environments, particularly for women.
Damien Oraki of ShowSlice, meanwhile, shared how years of experience with big event productions led him to create ShowSlice, a platform that allows #eventprofs to piggy-back and share costs and crew on each other’s installations. With ShowSlice you list your future event by approx date and size and other #eventprofs can then connect with you based on there being an event fit. Costs sharing has already been practiced successfully for many years by #eventprofs but only really on an ad hoc basis. Oraki’s platform turns hopeful serendipity into actual opportunity, creating win | win for all parties.
Jean-Michel Petit’s intervention provoked great audience reaction with many comments highlighting how Vizeat would be perfect for incentive travel experiences. Vizeat is a meal-sharing platform that facilitates connections between visitors and locals over a home cooked meal. Like SpaceBase it provides a creative, truly authentic alternative to the cookie-cutter blandness of many hotel and restaurant experiences. Best of all it connects visitors with locals and allows the visitor deep-dive into the destination, beyond the shiny veneer of “official” tourism.
Gary Schirmacher, Senior VP at Experient, part of the recently rebranded Maritz Global Events, delivered a compelling, forward-looking presentation from the agency perspective accepting fully that the sharing economy is here to stay. As an agency with a specialisation in large scale city-wide events, Schirmacher has already commenced discussions with sharing economy companies with the view to accessing their inventory for his events. These discussions will also explore revenue sharing.
Stopping the rapid advance of the Sharing Economy into the heart of the Meetings Industry is akin to the Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch defending the Wall against the White Walkers (topical reference: Game of Thrones Season 6 starting tonight!). It’s ultimately a futile exercise and a very vain hope. Some hotels have already started to work with Airbnb by placing some inventory on their platform. In the knowledge that their delegates are already doing so, confident and savvy agencies like Maritz Global Events are now actively seeking ways to work with sharing economy companies. By so doing they strengthen their position as the ultimate experts and consolidators across the wide expanse of the meetings industry.
NB: Shout-Out and kudos to Maarten Vanneste and team at Abbit who did sound, vision and audience-engagement for our session.
Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney own SoolNua, a boutique agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the MICE market.