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Technology in Offsite Meetings and Incentive Events

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Jump to a Section:
Technology Insights
-- Virtual Meetings
-- Social Media
-- Mobile Apps
Technology Acceptance and Adoption
ROI Insights



When asked about the use of technology for meetings and incentive events, a group of event planners, third party vendors and sales managers at large hotel chains identified WiFi, Virtual Meetings, Social Media and Mobile Apps as the most pervasive considerations.  As a second tier, they made passing references to audience response systems, badge screening, and cloud computing; however, they viewed A/V support, computers and the like as an event “given.”

So what factors influence their views and acceptance of WiFi, Virtual Meetings, Social Media and Mobile Apps? What were their pitfalls?

For answers, the IRF supported a qualitative study by a team of graduate students from New York University’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management, which explores:

  • How today’s technologies help meetings and incentive events achieve corporate goals and objectives
  • Drivers of the adoption of technology
  • Impediments to usage of various technologies

In addition, the study looked at secondary research relating to ROI and the evolution of technology.  

I. Technology Insights


Social Media, Mobile Apps, and Virtual Meetings are dependent on having quality WiFi connections – the single-most important technology advancement for planners and venue hosts. 

Yet event planners viewed advanced use of WiFi as contingent on bandwidth connections and hotel budgets allocated for WiFi upgrades.  Conversely, venues believed that planners underestimate the number of attendees using WiFi.  Additionally, hotel pricing of WiFi was controversial.  Half of the planners interviewed felt that WiFi pricing was excessive or that venues should offer free WiFi. 

Part of this perspective on WiFi pricing may be driven by perceptions of WiFi quality being low and the free availability of WiFi in many retail establishments.  In addition to a venue’s facility and location, technology quality and availability are key selection criterion for event planners

Venues want to resolve WiFi issues, but struggle with the investment required.  You can’t have a Virtual Meeting, employ Social Media, or use Mobile Apps effectively unless you have the bandwidth for stable WiFi connections – but WiFi covering the entire facility or beachfront is an expensive proposition for venues.

Virtual Meetings

Compared to Face-To-Face Meetings

Because face-to-face meetings inherently involve personal interaction, respondents agreed that Virtual Meetings will not replace face-to-face altogether -- especially for incentive events where attendees receive rewards and expect unique experiences.

Citing benefits of lower cost and more attendees, respondents qualified Virtual Meetings as appropriate for company updates, internal meetings and general staff meetings involving:

  • Smaller group sizes
  • Time limitations
  • Low need for networking

Other issues with Virtual Meetings include the potential loss of connectivity and lack of easy interaction with speakers and attendees.

Social Media

In Meetings

Social Media received minor mention from planners but seems to be an emerging technology for meetings.  Planners remain concerned however that attendees would post inappropriate pictures during the event.

In Incentive Events

Social Media has a great appeal to incentive event planners: One-third of planners use Social Media to engage, build communities, and market.  Social Media can extend the social interaction period beyond the event itself – increasing networking and interaction.

Citing Twitter in particular, planners believed it was of little value to obtain attendee commentaries about speakers and what attendees were doing during the day.  Many believed Social Media to be a double-edged sword:  On the one hand, it can enhance the experience and marketing, but it can also be a time-consuming distraction.   

In the financial services industry, where security and privacy are all-important, many planners believe Social Media activity injects a level of risk they are loathe to take.

Social Media Take Aways

Demographics: Depending on attendee demographics, Social Media can be perceived as an entirely new technology by some, but “old hat” by advanced users who have grown to expect it.   Hence, having a Social Media strategy and understanding of executive management’s philosophy about it is extremely important.  In short, corporate culture and management’s perspective drive not only technology usage, but the use of Social Media as well.

Investment: Planners view the role of Social Media as unclear.  They were unsure when it is best to use it, and the investment required.

Larger Audiences: Social Media should open up value-added informal and peer-to-peer learning channels for attendees and online networks of others not able to attend the event.

Control Issues: Social Media is a double-edged sword since it is driven by users. Planners therefore fear the lack of information control.  Experts note that participation in online social spaces follows the 1:9:90 Rule:  1% Create Content --> 9% Interact With The Content --> 90% Are Spectators To The Content and Interactions 

Mobile Apps

In Meetings

Over a third of the interviewees stated that mobile apps helped to increase collaboration by facilitating interactions between attendees and presenters.  In fact, mobile apps are displacing audience response/polling systems, which require additional effort for presenters and a separate set up.  Mobile apps also create an “exchange dynamic” between the attendee and speaker, whereas audience response/polling systems are often one-way.

Mobile apps also reduce printing costs through paperless meeting agendas, etc.  On the downside is the need for users to be familiar with the application in advance.  Orientation, education, and ongoing support on how to use the app therefore become necessary. 

In Incentive Events

For incentive events, respondents cited mobile apps as a benefit to distributing materials such as program schedules and information, and to maintaining contact with incentive event attendees.

Planners are also using text messaging and websites to create engagement and disseminate information.  One respondent noted that at one event mobile phones were provided to all attendees to distribute agendas and maintain contact with attendees.

Mobile App Take Aways

Knowledge Base: Don’t assume all attendees know how to download and use the mobile app; additionally, because unforeseen problems may cause it to malfunction, a back-up plan is critical.

Advance Downloading: Be aware that some people will not download the app.  If only 50 – 60% download the app, do not be surprised.

Operating Systems:  There are multiple operating systems on smart phones: BlackBerry OS, Apple iOS, Windows Mobile, and Android are just a few of them. Most are associated with specific brands of phones made by specific companies, while others are open-source and are available on a variety of platforms. Keep this in mind when considering the use of Mobile Apps.  A good place to start is to understand what type(s) your audience(s) currently use.

Networking: If planners set a goal of engaging their audience and creating a more active network of attendees, they will find mobile apps to be a good choice because they:

  • Make security and privacy controls more possible
  • Can be used to target specific events and audiences.

A Note About Information Security

Corporate Firewall

A majority of the respondents noted that information security -- particularly important in the financial services industry – demands that IT departments actively protect information.  The corporate firewall is often a challenge but a “necessary element” of corporate technology security.  Planners need to understand and work with IT to address firewall issues when using technology.

Third Party Suppliers

This security concern extends to include third party technologies.  For example, planners highlighted secure registration systems as a way to protect attendee’s personal information from outside viewing.

II. Technology Acceptance and Adoption

The executive’s comfort level with a particular technology plays a key role in whether it is adopted.  Technology has become a major determinant for site selection by planners since adequate and reliable technology is now a “must have.”  Planners realize that the technology infrastructure at a venue can determine success or failure; however, it’s a means to an end and not an end in itself. 

Technology enables new ways for people to interact before, during and after meetings and events.  Planners need to understand, embrace, and effectively apply technology to support the goals of the meeting or event.  As emerging technologies become more ubiquitous and planners and executives become more accustomed to using them, their use in meetings and events will increase.

Adoption Levels

For innovations to be accepted by the industry, the adoption must occur at several levels: meeting/event owner, planner, and the attendee.  Influencing these different levels are:

·      Each of the individual’s perceptions of the technology based on demographics, personal characteristics/preferences, knowledge, and education

·      The organization’s culture, hierarchy, business priorities, and philosophy.

Ultimately, to make the integration of technology successful, planners need to understand their audiences, establish goals and objectives for the event, and be able to articulate how technology will assist in achieving their goals and objectives.

III.  ROI Insights

Measuring the effectiveness of a particular technology cannot easily be extracted from the overall success of the event -- it is one element of the overall meeting/event and can have a role in how planners undertake various activities.  For example, technology can lower costs by helping to reduce print charges.  

Overall, study respondents measured technology effectiveness primarily in terms of how well the goals of the meeting/event were met and if the sponsoring executive viewed the event as a success.

This research reveals that planners view WiFi as the new basic utility, similar to lights, water, and restrooms.  They also generally feel it should be free (or more reasonably priced) and not a luxury add-on.

Conversely, venue operators are experiencing rapid technology pressures and increased bandwidth demands all the time, such as attendee’s growing use of tablets and smart phones 24/7. 

This expectation of continual, high quality broadband WiFi in all areas of the venue, especially meeting and guest rooms requires significant investment on behalf of many venues.   Coupling this concern with planner’s continual need to contain costs while finding new ways to engage attendees means WiFi will continue to cause dynamic tension between venues and planners for at least the near-term future. 


Copyright, 2013.

The Incentive Research Foundation



Incentive Research Foundation
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