Whilst events benefit from tech, robots cannot be responsible for creativity. Matt Storey, director – business development at Gallowglass, assesses the industry’s future landscape

 

What a load of old shite 2016 was! Starting with the loss of legends like Bowie, Gene Wilder and Hilda Ogden, followed by the seismic decision to cut ourselves off from The Continent, the Toblerone debacle – and then the whole sorry mess Trumped by… the man himself.

This is the time of year when pundits cast their predictions for the months ahead. And we all know that the events industry can be expected to either capitalise on, or suffer from, the prevailing social and economic conditions. So how will UK plc acclimatise to the country’s new political bedfellows and what will the knock-on effects be for the rest of us?

The last six months revealed that Western society is warming to the kind of red-necked tub-thumpers whose rhetoric promises to deliver people from hardship to a state of glorious prosperity.

These politicians feed off the widespread malaise fuelled by people’s anxiety that they no longer have control over their own destinies. One of the main sources of which is concern over employment prospects in a workspace being remoulded by technological advances.

Look at the Uber driver, who picks his hours of work and enjoys the independence of self-employment. Is he aware that Uber’s 20 per cent cut is being actively reinvested in driverless technology? He’s essentially funding his own redundancy.

Then there’s the demise of the High Street: Vanishing bookstores, drones replacing delivery services, apps instead of bank clerks. People working in these sectors would be right to feel threatened. As the digital revolution continues to accelerate change everywhere, their future job security is beginning to look decidedly shaky.

And this uncertainty is trickling right the way down to the next generation. I recently attended an educational conference at my children’s school, and experts discussed how education is trying desperately to remodel learning formats and environments to equip children for an unknown – and unknowable – future landscape.

By this stage, you might be expecting me to be on the lookout for a high window to jump out of. But, as a matter of fact, I’m feeling pretty chipper about the prospects for our own sector. Call me a blinkered fantasist, but I can’t help believing that the events industry is, to a large extent, future-proofed.

Why? Because our jobs are underpinned by creativity. We have to reinvent ways of inspiring, educating or delighting people on a daily basis, constantly striving to go further, dig deeper and solve challenges in new and more exciting ways. Not only do we thrive on evolving new ways of working within our own industry, but what we do provides the means for our clients to harness new media and get their messages across in more innovative ways.

Whether we’re treating audiences to a multi-sensory replica of the Amazon rainforest, designing stages that can withstand high winds, or transforming disused car-parks into executive adventure playgrounds, only human beings can come up with the initial ideas and concepts, that we then develop, adapt and convert into spectacular experiences.

It’s true that we’ve felt threatened by technology at various times over the last 10 years. It was predicted that virtual meetings would kill-off international conferences; that VR headsets would remove the incentive for people to leave their chairs. But what we’ve discovered is that while technology allows audiences to be extended right around the planet, a core of live human interaction is essential to create the “happening”.

While events continue to benefit from the addition of holograms, augmented reality and multi-sensory experiences (yes, of course, amplified on social media!) the creativity required to spark those live experiences isn’t going to be generated by an algorithm or a robot any time soon.

But then again – what do I know? If I learned anything last year, it was not to make educated guesses. We may yet all go to hell in a hand cart. Happy New Year!