Having been involved in hundreds of events over the years including gatherings for major brands like Uber, Warner Brothers, and Anheuser Busch, Will knows about events. Here, he reveals his thoughts on a key trend for event planners in the coming year.
G2Planet: What do you see as the biggest non-tech-related trend or trends next year?
Will Curran: The biggest trend is the emergence of non-traditional venues. Hotels and convention centers are overrated, and it's time for alternative event spaces to step up and get their act together. Wi-Fi, AV, and catering costs are going up while hotel commissions are coming down. Planners have traditionally focused on hotels and convention centers because they're big venues. In addition, alternative venues like event centers and warehouses often are just not as well organized.
Too often, in non-traditional venues, the people aren't experienced enough, they don't have good Wi-Fi, they don't have good catering services, things like that. But I think it's time for them to get their acts together because planners don't want to be in hotels anymore. They're sick of being restricted, sick of the bland sameness, and sick of the extremely high costs for those venues.
For very large events that need a lot of room, hotels and convention centers may seem like the only options. That means having to use a union and deal with a multitude of restrictions. With a gigantic warehouse, a creative planner could build out the same event—but the warehouses generally don't have their stuff together.
For example, there's this West Coast structure with an amazingly big empty space and it has the potential to be a great venue, but working with management makes it feel second-tier. The contact person is never there, is hard to reach...it's time for venues like that to raise their game, because otherwise, planners are going to remain stuck in the hotel-convention center power play. Planners want to get out, but they just don't know how.
G2Planet: Interesting. What are examples of those non-traditional venues?
Will: Sporting venues are good to look at. I love warehouses because generally, you can bring in things like power, staging, lighting, and really customize the space.
For small "turnkey" events where you just need to put people in a room, interact, watch some PowerPoint presentations, event centers work well. They don't offer the most distinctive decor, grand marble entrances, or the most elaborate catering, but they are functional and affordable.
But at the same time, there's an opportunity for that venue to create a second brand that's just a little bit higher scale, maybe looks a little nicer, and takes the culinary options up a notch from sandwiches, but isn't associated with a larger brand. There's an opportunity for alternative, smaller business venues to rise up.
There's so much opportunity for them to make money because planners, instead of spending $100,000 at a hotel, are willing to pay close to that amount with an alternative venue in order to get more flexibility.
However, if the event center instead discounts deeply but delivers terrible service, not enough outlets, dirty power, and other problems—the planner ends up saying, "Well, that was a cool experiment, we're never doing that again." That's not how alternative venues win.
That's why convention centers and hotels continue to do well, because they have the history. They pay their people better. They have the longevity to know what mistakes to avoid. There may be minor issues, but not the kind of killer mistakes (the WiFi or power stops working, the contact person is inept or rude, capabilities were misrepresented) that ruin the experience with some alternative venues.
College campuses are great, too. Alternative venues can deliver unique experiences. On a campus, attendees may be brushing shoulders with students and it gives the event a completely different vibe. At a hotel, you go up to your room, you come down to the ballroom, you attend sessions in other hotel meeting rooms, you maybe walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner, it's all rather standard.
But on a college campus, you may be walking between buildings, there's a buzz of activity, and if your event is trying for that back-to-college feeling or it's something education-related, that environment can really be a benefit.