What’s Next for Convention Centers?

Meeting planners and attendees expect increased technology capabilities and flexible meeting spaces. With that in mind, how will convention centers adapt in the years to come?

Do your meeting attendees want (and expect) WiFi? Yes, and yes. Do they want the usual convention-center learning environment: cold, large, window-less, fluorescent-lit spaces? Not so much. But, what can convention centers do?

Centres are challenged by rapid change in … technology and connectivity demands, both of which require greater facility investment in a time of only modest revenue growth.

It’s tough, especially when a survey released this month by APIC, the International Association of Convention Centres predicts only a 1 percent revenue growth for convention centers in 2013—giving them little money to work with to make improvements. (That’s compared to 6 to 7 percent growth in the previous few years.) “Centres are challenged by rapid change in event formats and explosive growth in technology and connectivity demands, both of which require greater facility investment in a time of only modest revenue growth,” said a press release.

But even with slowing revenues, conventions centers must find ways to adapt to these changing expectations in order to keep their appeal to meeting planners. One way to do that is to offer new amenities and conveniences, a topic discussed earlier this month at the International Association of Venue Managers, Inc.’s 2013 International Convention Center Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.

During the meeting’s Industry Leaders Panel, “Staying Ahead of the Curves,” Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, COO, International Association of Exhibitions and Events; Deborah Sexton, president and CEO, Professional Convention Management Association; and Vicki Hawarden, CMP, president and CEO, IAVM, discussed the latest trends affecting the industry and what convention centers must offer in the future.

“If I were a venue manager, I would build that small studio that can be used for videos during events,” said Sexton in an article posted on about the session. She predicted more hybrid events will increase attendance through digital broadcasts of the face-to-face gathering, which means production studios at convention centers will be required.

And while she knows that technology is a challenge because it comes with added costs for convention centers, it’s essential. “A meeting professional will not take a major group to a venue where they cannot be connected. Connectivity is expected,” she said. Hawarden agreed, saying that conventions are all about the experience—and technology adds to that.

For Breden, a convention space that’s flexible in terms of amenities and room setups is important as well as the center’s location. Meeting planners want it to be safe, walkable to dining and entertainment options, and near an airport. Panelists also said that convention centers that offer up flexible and different types of meeting space—whether gardens, outdoor space, or small theaters—will be more in demand.

Their ideas fall in line with predictions offered up a few months back by convention center designer Michael Lockwood in Expo magazine. “It’s clear individuals are looking for social gathering spaces to converse about a topic outside the physical spaces content has traditionally been delivered in. Event venues need to embrace this,” he wrote. “All spaces in and around facilities, including adjacent hotels, public plazas, and other meeting facilities nearby, need to have the technology in place to allow for streaming live content.” Lockwood also added that attendees will become increasingly interested in experiencing destinations beyond the walls of the convention center.

While these new amenities may seem costly and unattainable to many convention centers, the good news is that some have already taken the plunge. Jumping on the locally-sourced food trend, the Vancouver Convention Centre’s culinary team uses honey from its rooftop beehives in its pastries and other dishes, and Colorado Convention Center chefs use harvests from its 5,000-square-foot Blue Bear Farm to create natural and healthy entrees.

Nashville’s newly opened Music City Center offers plenty of hotels, entertainment, and restaurants within walking distance of the convention center, really giving attendees the opportunity to go beyond its walls and experience the city while they’re in town. And Oklahoma City’s new convention center, scheduled to open in 2018, will have a planned park surrounding it and be within walking distance of downtown’s entertainment district.

When it comes to technology, the Cleveland Convention Center was built with WiFi access points throughout to ensure that attendees never lose high-speed access. The center also offers LED lighting in its meeting spaces that can change color on demand. Another example is the Qatar National Convention Center, which has the ability to live stream conferences and meetings.

All of these updates and changes cater to modern-day attendee and planner expectations. What else do you think should be on the list of must-haves for convention centers in the future? Share your thoughts below.


(Kevin Williams/Flickr)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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