Why You Need to Adopt a Sharing Economy to Keep your Conference Relevant

2014_Sharing by ryancr, on FlickrIt’s smart.

It’s social.

It’s green.

It’s a movement towards a sharing economy.

And the direction your next-gen attendee is headed.

Collaborative consumption is about shared access to products and services. Sharing goods and services is considered smart, social, green, and aligns with the values of your next-generation conference participants. Time magazine has identified it as one of the “10 Ideas that will change the world.” The sharing movement is having — and will continue to have — a significant impact on all of us, as consumers and professionals.

It’s already creating waves in our industry. Consider that Airbnb now has an inventory of rooms to rent — 650,000 — that eclipses Hilton’s. It took Hilton 93 years to get there versus four short years for Airbnb. It’s a very different business model than what we’re used to, but it’s certainly an attendee option. LiquidSpace and other companies offer hourly or daily rentals for office or meeting spaces. Thousands of them! Even Marriott jumped on the bandwagon offering its meeting and workspace inventory on

LiquidSpace’s website. It’s primarily for the top five U.S. business centers, but the concept is taking off in many markets around the country. Uber is totally changing the transportation ecosystem in more than 100 global cities with its drivers-on-demand app — not just taxis, but also car-ownership choices.

How will the collaborative movement affect conferences?

1. Buyer’s market

While most hotel chains won’t admit that emerging solutions like Airbnb or LiquidSpace are real competitors, companies like these will have a major impact on the hospitality industry’s supply/demand equation, to say nothing of how they affect the room-block model. It may take a few years, but my money is on a long-term shift to a buyer’s market — especially for room inventory attractive to the huge Millennial market. Supply and demand has the greatest impact on hotel-room pricing.

2. Lower attendance

Companies may send fewer participants to major conferences — not because of cost cutting, but because of increased sharing and knowledge-transfer improvement among team members. Digital technologies allow us to keep our network alive and well even without attending a conference.

3. Co-opetition

More suppliers will consider shared booth spaces and co-sponsorship opportunities. Instead of one company throwing its own private dinner, several can pool their money and customers to deliver a bigger and better experience. Meeting professionals should try to make those partnerships part of the main conference experience.

4. Smarter procurement

Conference organizers may look for more opportunities to share stage sets, keynote speakers, and design elements with conferences that occur before or after theirs. We’re just scratching the surface on how the collaborative economy will disrupt traditional business models. Understanding this growing trend will enable you to be of greater strategic value to your organization.

Has your conference been affected by Collaborative Consumption? What are some ways you are adopting this mindset for your conference?

Hat Tips to Rachel Botsman and her blog post: “Collaborative Economy Services: Changing the Way We Travel”, on her HITEC 2014 keynote for inspiring this post. 
Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2014.
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