How the Sharing Economy is Changing Events (or is it?)

In kindergarten you’re taught sharing is good. But is that true when it comes to the event industry?

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This blog post invites you to weigh in on if and how the sharing economy is impacting and evolving your events.

Shared-access Economy

Simply put: the sharing economy uses technology to help people rent stuff from each other. We’ve come to know it through platforms like Airbnb and Uber: internet services that allow home-owners and drivers to offer lodging and rides to individual customers.

How big is the movement? Pretty darn large in some cases! Airbnb claims over 25 million guests and one million accommodation listings worldwide, while Uber’s ride service boasts operations in 277 cities globally.

While room and ride sharing are general travel services that no doubt have relevance to us in the event industry, more specific event-related services are also emerging. Like Showslice, a recent EIBTM Innovation honoree that enables show organizers to share production requirements via a confidential platform with the aim of coordinating equipment, reducing cost and avoiding environmental impacts across events sharing the same venue.

Another example, LiquidSpace, allows users to list and find temporary meeting and workspaces and has garnered participation from the likes of Marriott.

Sharing Shakes It Up

So what’s the big deal with the shared-access economy? After all, haven’t we been renting and sharing all types of event supplies, spaces and services forever? And couldn’t more of the same present advantages?

Indeed we have. And yes, there are definite pluses. I recently had an event coordinator suggest I take advantage of a new shared floral program they offer, which makes gently used but still gorgeous décor left over from an event held the previous day available for discounted cost.

I’d need to be flexible about color, but both events could save some cash and reduce waste by agreeing to share the same arrangement. Just takes a little fore-thought and cooperation. Seems simple and harmless enough, so why not?

However, a few things make some manifestations of this trend more disruptive today:

  1. The internet and mobile technology has magnified sharing potential exponentially.
  2. Hesitations users may have had about safety and experience quality associated with sharing services are declining through better user rating systems and social media integration.
  3. Applications can dissolve the planner’s role and influence in arranging core services like rooms and transport.
  4. Traditional regulation, licensing and taxation models governing what is shared are struggling to respond to the new sharing model in ways that addresses unfair advantages, such as room rentals that circumvent hotel taxes, or share-cars that don’t require taxi licensing.

 

You need only look as far as Australia, Brussels, Nevada, New York, Portland, Vancouver, Amsterdam and perhaps your own backyard to see that sharing is causing a significant stir in the travel and event industry. And more broadly, concern is rising that the sharing economy may be counter to the public good.

Consider the situation of a Portland, Oregon-based planner I know who recently received a discount offer for attendees to use Uber for their Seattle conventions. While Uber is operating legally in Seattle through a deal brokered in July, a few hundred miles down the road in Portland, Uber is in the midst of temporarily halting operations while regulators figure out how to deal with the service, which has proven controversial in the city.

So it has no doubt led to some natural questions for my planner friend: Is the service legal? Does it present risks to the event or attendees? Am I liable for any issues that arise from communicating the service? With these uncertainties is it best to ignore? Or invest time in determining if the service adds value for participants?

So How Are You Responding?

Based on a scan of articles and casual conversation with peers in the event industry, it seems there are mixed responses to the sharing trend. Where does your reaction fall?

This too shall pass? Sure sharing is a novel trend, and you may have even dabbled in it yourself. But it could stay or go as far as you’re concerned because it’s really not affecting nor is it expected to dramatically influence how you approach events. You’re adopting the wait and see approach.

Deploy defenses? The event industry needs to work to ensure sharers can be adapted into the current or a revised regulatory model, to ensure minimum disruption, and appropriate, safe adoption.

Join ‘em? The sharing economy presents enhancements to your events that are important enough to have you proactively adapting to the emerging model. If you’re experiencing success or have innovations to share, please comment!

In Conclusion

While some aspects of the sharing economy are challenging the traditional business model for some services in the event industry, others can present logical, cost-effective and reduced impact ways to support attendees in seeking the experiences they want. So how are you responding? Care to share?

About The Author
Shawna McKinley
Shawna McKinley is a sustainability specialist who believes in the power of events to make the world a better place. She helps eventprofs take practical, smart steps through zero waste and carbon conscious choices that generate social good, business value, and happy event participants. Read more on her blog, Eventcellany.

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