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Surveying the future at the Smart Venue Summit

CN’s Smart Venue Summit brought together venue managers and executives to discuss the trends, innovations and challenges which event venues are facing in 2019.


In the build-up to International Confex 2019, Conference News played host to a Smart Venue Summit at the Victory Services Club in Hyde Park, London.

The event on 25 February brought together a selection of international venue managers and executives, for a series of keynotes and panel discussions highlighting the most important trends in event venues, as well as the challenges the sector is currently facing. 

Speakers included Pim Schoonderwoerd of RAI Amsterdam (pictured above), Eventbooking president Steve Mackenzie, and Ian Stickland of design consultancy firm Charcoalblue.




Schoonderwoerd was first on the agenda for the afternoon, sitting down with CN editor Martin Fullard for a Q&A session titled “What does a smart venue look like?”. He spoke of some of the technological innovations which the RAI has installed in recent years, including facial recognition.

The RAI, he said, is working with event tech company Fielddrive on a system that can recognise event attendees as they enter the venue, speeding up registration and allowing staff to personally greet them. The goal, according to Schoonderwoerd, is not to use technology as an attention-grabbing gimmick, but to have it be an invisible presence that increases the human element of an event, rather than decreasing it. “The more advanced the technology becomes, the more invisible it becomes,” he said.

“Virtual reality is an answer, but we don’t know to what question.”

Schoonderwoerd also touched upon virtual reality, a piece of technology which seems to have enormous potential for events, but which venues and organisers alike have not yet utilised to its full potential: “Virtual reality is an answer, but we don’t know to what question,” he said.




Eventbooking president Steve Mackenzie then delivered a rundown of the most important tech trends for venues, and case studies of how they have been used effectively. He pointed towards certain American football stadiums that have installed Amazon’s AI Alexa in their corporate suites, in order to provide customer service and catering.

Ian Stickland of Charcoalblue then spoke about our changing perceptions of event spaces, and how seating arrangements can have a huge impact on how we engage with an event. He implored organisers to avoid ‘cinema’ seating layouts, where attendees sit in rows and passively listen to a speaker, and suggested some alternatives. E-sports events, said Stickland, often make use of more immersive ‘bowl’ seating formats, similar to a boxing ring. “We need to embrace live, and be liberated by technology,” he commented.




The conference industry’s engagement with new technology is in many ways measured by the venues which host them, and the Smart Venue Summit provided a forum for those on the cutting edge to learn from and inspire each other. It also provided a preview of the thought-provoking content to follow at International Confex 2019.

Photography is credited to Stuart Wood