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Event market consolidation ‘creates room’ for innovators

Market consolidation may create “unhealthy competition” but leaves opportunities for smaller planners, according to an industry leader.

Ashley Roberts, managing director for CONNECT, highlighted how a growth in acquisitions over recent years can stifle innovation because many are unable to compete with the “large tool chest” of major groups.

But he believes it opens doors for smaller, more flexible organisers to flourish in areas which don’t offer such obvious incentives to these industry giants.

He said: “A lot of the larger global organisers are acquiring and growing. That’s a key growth strategy for them – to grow through acquisition. 

“The problem is, there’s a big negative to that. It is creating unhealthy competition with large organisers.

“They’ve got a big tool chest with huge amounts of capital, so they can go out there and acquire – and small to medium organisers really can’t compete.”

However, Ashley set out how the ability for them to quickly move into new spaces makes it easier for them to make gains from areas which are overlooked.

He added: “We are a small organiser. We don’t have the rigid process that often larger businesses have – we’re more agile and we move to market faster. 

“The downside is we don’t always have the capitals or the network the larger organisations do.

“How we navigate that is we also look at the markets that the larger organisers might not deem as attractive.

“They’ve got higher overheads for them to launch an event that is profitable, it has to have longevity and be scalable etc. 

“They’re often going to be looking at markets that represent larger returns in the long-term. 

“For smaller organisers, it’s relative to the size of our business so we can look at markets that yield smaller returns for a larger organiser – but to us, they are relatively large returns.”

Ashley gave an example of how large planners in the Middle East are concentrating their efforts on the Saudi Arabian market.

This leaves room for Oman-based organiser CONNECT to focus on other demand across the region such as Oman, Qatar and Bahrain as well.

Meanwhile, Ashley also set out how seamless experiences and customisation for digital platforms will be crucial for the success of events.

He claimed there is sometimes an “old school” mentality which is holding back traditional exhibition organisers.

However, he believes technology will be key to bringing better value to customers and planners in future.

Ashley said: “Unfortunately, there is a very old school mentality – predominantly in the exhibition industry – of looking at technology as a threat. 

“Yes, it can be seen that way when we look at where our customers are spending huge amounts of money with technology. 

“I personally view technology as an enabler for our industry to be better at what we’re doing, to offer our customers and our audiences more, to better bridge that gap of in-person to then digital. 

“There are massive opportunities. I think AI is a really exciting space – to see what AI is going to do with technology in the events industry as well.

“We are at the early stages of AI. It’s been around for a long while – you interact with any retail brand and they have embedded AI, pop-ups and chat bots etc. Things like that have been around for a very, very long time. 

“But we’re not particularly an early adopter and I think we need to look to a lot of industries outside our immediate industry for inspiration.

“Fast-moving sectors have been pioneering and embracing  technology such as this. We should never be afraid to look outside our industry and seek some inspiration.”

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One of the key challenges for making the technology a solid part of an event’s offerings was said to be the need for a seamless experience.

Ashley called on planners to make sure integration of digital tools across the show was as smooth as possible.

This would lead to these online solutions becoming as much a part of the onsite show as the event itself.

He said: “There’s got to be better integration of technology within our events and a whole 365 engagement. It’s just going to be there, it’s all one of the same. 

“Technology platforms should be part of the overall mix of what we’re delivering, with the in-person aspect of events as well.

“The overarching aspect for us as an industry is for technology to become more important, which it is starting to do. There is significant progress required within our industry. 

“Within providers to our industry, there is development that still needs to be done and that’s a constant evolution. 

“That is about working hand-in-hand with organisers, but also the wider ecosystem in our industry. 

“We don’t define it as just technology providers and organisers, we look at the wider ecosystem – how can we work with one another? 

“Because there are certain platforms that really need to work hand-in-hand.”

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