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January 16, 2015

Middle East: Teaming Up for Technology

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As technological advancements open up new possibilities for the convention sector, AIPC President Geoff Donaghy discussed the challenges of adapting in a united manner. 

As events evolve, so do planners’ expectations of venues. As trends in formats and services come and go, however, technology is a tool that we can guarantee will be on the table in the long term. 

Keeping up to date with technology can only be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction if both conference centres and organisers are involved in the conversation and get ready to face some tough decisions. 

Firstly, there will be associated costs with introducing new technology, which will need to be recovered. It isn’t always easy to collect these costs from users – in our case, delegates – particularly because we live in a world where access to technology is increasingly seen as something that should be available free of charge. 

Recovering these costs becomes problematic when we talk about the demands of thousands of users in a conference centre environment. This needs some creative thinking and co-operative decision-making together with clients and it needs to happen soon so that an approach is established when the time comes to address future growth. 

Secondly, centres will also need to create structures and systems that can readily adapt to future technology changes, possibly on a very large scale. The ‘embedded technology’ that seemed like such a good idea 20 years ago was proven to be a bad one when the direction of that technology changed drastically with the advent of wireless and one can only assume equal surprises await. 

The challenge will be to ensure that facility design can accommodate any number of possibilities without massive structural disruption and this is something we need to be encouraging our architects, as well as others responsible for building configurations, to be working on now. 

We also need to recognise that every new technologically enabled development will also need to be addressed. For example, the growth of hybrid meetings is in its infancy, but already it is clear that this extra audience demands different servicing and layouts. New forms of presentation, such as ‘virtual speakers’, will bring new requirements too. As these capabilities increase and become more affordable, their usage will grow. 

Discussions on the topic need to be informed by realistic assessments by organisers of their future needs. Again, this needs to be a joint conversation recognising that everyone has a stake in the outcome. 

All these developments mean we will need to focus even more on adding value to attending future events when remote participation may prove easier. Both organisers and venues say this added value is the opportunity for personal interaction and networking but, once again, technology is enabling those aspects in ways unimaginable a decade ago. Planners and centres need to think about enhancing the experience component of their product so that we will always provide incremental value, regardless of what technology offers. 

Centres know their capabilities and organisers can best anticipate new demands. Maintaining good communications is the best way of ensuring delegates continue to get what they want, which will encourage them to attend events in the future, making it a worthwhile investment on both our parts. 

Geoff Donaghy is AIPC President, CEO of International Convention Centre Sydney and Director Convention Centres AEG Ogden. 

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