Why people continue to speak for free at meeting industry conferences

speaking for freeWhy people continue to speak for free at meeting industry conferences: Another issue of an occasional series—Dear Adrianin which I answer questions about event design, elementary particle physics, solar hot water systems, and anything else I might conceivably know something about. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please write to me (don’t worry, I won’t publish anything without your permission).

My post Why don’t meeting conferences pay speakers? has attracted attention since I wrote it 8 years ago. Patty Boyd recently posted the following comment:

“I agree that the willingness of some people to speak for free is the biggest hurdle to fixing this problem. If people agree to speak for free, then why would the organizers change their practice?”

Here’s my response:


Dear Patty,

There will always be two sets of people willing to speak for free:

Newbies

There will be newbies, attempting to create a speaking resume so they can up their credibility and, hopefully, eventually get paying gigs. I have no problem with people doing this — all veterans were newbies once. But of course, by definition, the meeting gets someone with:

  • little or no speaking experience;
  • no track record; and
  • an unknown level of expertise.

That may be great for the budget of the meeting organizers, but these are not necessarily the best people to put in front of a paying audience.

Industry providers of goods and services

The other folks willing to speak for free are industry providers of goods and services, who may well have already paid to be at the event to staff their trade show booth or meet customers. They already have a financial incentive and justification to attend, and presenting a session gives them the opportunity to spread knowledge of their existence to potential paying customers. Some of these people are great and don’t promote their company. In my experience, most of them are so-so presenters. In addition, we’ve all had to sit through “speakers” who blatantly promote themselves and their companies on our dime and time.

This group has become far more common at meeting industry conferences over the years. Ten years ago, even when I had just started to present on meeting industry topics, organizations routinely offered fees and reimbursement of expenses. A review of meeting industry conference programs over the last five years confirms a significant trend to supplier-employed speakers, plus a few folks from the meeting industry association itself. Generally, the only speakers who get paid are the “big names” — often “outside” speakers with dubious and transitory value to meeting professionals — whom the association uses to trumpet how wonderful their meeting is.

My experience— and a tip

Currently, I receive several weekly requests to present for free. (That’s despite having been voted one of the top 100 most influential people in the event industry in global polls for the last two years.) Sadly, unless I am unusually interested in presenting at the event, I don’t even bother to respond any more. I know from years of experience that asking for payment will invariably be met with some kind of embarrassed excuse.

[Tip: If you’re reading this, and want to get someone like me to speak at your meeting, try including what you will offer for fee and expense reimbursement in your initial request. Initial offers of payment are so rare, your inquiry will immediately rise to the top of my pile.]

My take

For the reasons given above, it’s unrealistic to expect that a supply of “free” speakers will ever disappear. As usual, you get what you pay for. When you pack your program with free speakers, it’s your attendees who suffer. However, in my experience, meeting organizations don’t seem to care these days.

P.S.

Actually, there is a third group of people who speak for free. I belong to this group, as do many of my colleagues.

I’m referring, of course, to pro bono speaking. Giving back to our meeting industry community is important and it feels good. I am always open to presentation opportunities for organizations that clearly have no source of funding for speaker reimbursement. (Which does not mean that they have a budget with a zero line item for speaking fees and expenses.)

In my case, I currently have a standing invitation for event and hospitality teachers to meet online with their classes for free. I’ve enjoyed multiple opportunities to meet and connect with current and future meeting industry professionals, and look forward to more!

If you have valuable material to share with our industry, please consider pro bono engagements when they fit for you.

The meeting industry new normal — Part 2

meeting industry new normalThe meeting industry old normal is over, and many event professionals are hoping and waiting for a new normal. [See Part 1 of this post for an introduction to this point of view.]

What will the meeting industry new normal look like?

One silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic, horrendous though its cost has been, is that it has forced us to think differently. In a July 2020 New Yorker article, Gianna Pomata, a professor of the history of medicine, “compared COVID-19 to the bubonic plague that struck Europe in the fourteenth century—’not in the number of dead but in terms of shaking up the way people think.'” But the effects of these two plagues were remarkably different. (For example, the Black Death increased the power of workers because labor was scarce. In contrast, COVID-19 has forced millions of low-paid workers further into poverty.)

The meeting industry old normal

For centuries, the meeting industry has believed that the “best” and “most important” meetings are those conducted face-to-face. For most of human history, of course, this has been the only meeting option. Technology has slowly made inroads on this assumption, with the development of the telephone, the conference call, video chat, etc. Each new technology has taken away a little piece of the need to meet in person under certain favorable conditions.

The meeting industry new normal

In 2020, we have been forced to think differently. Historians regard the devastation of the bubonic plague as the end of the Middle Ages. Similarly, I think that COVID-19 will turn out to mark the beginning of the end of in-person meetings as the bread and butter of the meeting industry.

What will a new normal for the meeting industry look like? There’s no way we can know. Why? Because the future of meetings is no longer tied to the old paradigms we’ve assumed ever since the first official “conference” was held in 1666. (See my book Conferences That Work for the details.) There has been no new normal since the end of the thousand-year reign of the Middle Ages. Similarly, the forced rise of online meetings has moved us into uncharted and unpredictable territory.

The meeting industry is now, perhaps, in what the founder of VISA, Dee Hoc, called the Chaordic Age. In Dave Snowden‘s Cynefin framework, the meeting industry, formerly rooted in the obvious and complicated domains, has now moved into the complex domain. To solve problems in the complex domain, experiments need to be conducted in order to determine what to do.

One thing to learn from history and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the meeting industry? Don’t waste your time pining for or hoping for a static meeting industry new normal.

Next practices, not best practices

In other words, this is a time for next practices not best practices. Our industry needs to experiment to discover what works and what doesn’t.

This is proving to be difficult.

Even pre-pandemic, it was risky to try new meeting ideas, because our clients, understandably, want successful events. Taking risks increases the chances of failure.

Today, with the current collapse of in-person meetings, it’s harder to find the resources, margins, and willing clients we once had, in order to conduct experiments.

Yet our industry must find the resources, courage, and willingness, to experiment with new ways of convening and meeting formats that respond to these new challenges. We are all suffering now. Those who continue to shoehorn what they used to do into our current pandemic and future post-pandemic environment will continue to suffer.

I’m encouraged that our industry is indeed experimenting with a variety of new platforms, marketing and pricing models, and meeting formats. One of the most interesting and welcome developments is the rapid growth of new platforms (1, 2) that provide online incarnations of traditional conference in-person socials. I see them as game-changers for online events, replacing the hallway conversations that have always been an essential and undervalued component of traditional meetings.

We are living in unprecedented times. Experimenting with new approaches to designing and convening meetings is essential. What may be even harder is discovering what works and adopting it, rather than staying locked in the old comfortable ways of making meetings. Meetings will continue to occur, and the meeting industry will survive. But don’t passively buy into the myth of a new meeting industry normal. That is, if you want to remain a player in one of the most important industries the human race has created.

The meeting industry new normal — Part 1

meeting industry new normal
Many event professionals are hoping and waiting for a meeting industry new normal. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our businesses. We want to believe that, at some point, in-person meetings like the ones we’ve held for decades will return.

Yes, there are a few world regions where cases of infection are currently very low. Such areas are already holding local in-person events, but safe inter-regional meetings are not possible. Even in these places, the meeting industry is not back to the “old” normal.

Some industry members have been trying mightily to claim that useful in-person meetings can occur during this pandemic if we take severe precautions, which include social distancing and face mask use. I have written earlier why I believe that the vast majority of meetings produced under these conditions, even if they are executed flawlessly from a safety standpoint, are not worth attending.

And, as we’ll see, there will not be a meeting industry new normal.

Let’s think this through.

An optimistic scenario for a meeting industry old normal

Suppose that everything goes as well as possible in the global fight against the coronavirus. Three fundamental things have to happen.

1) Scientists develop a safe, inexpensive, effective vaccine.

If we’re really lucky, we’ll have a safe, inexpensive, effective vaccine some time before the end of 2021 (remember, testing takes time).

2) The world mobilizes to provide the vaccine rapidly to a large proportion of the global population.

Optimistic forecasts say this could take place over 12 – 18 months. Presumably, in-person events during this period could become feasible for those who had received the vaccine. Of course, for this to happen safely, everyone involved in the event — attendees, staff, hospitality workers, and transportation personnel — must be vaccinated. Given that vaccine availability will be limited during the production ramp up, we should not assume that in-person events would quickly become feasible.

3) We overcome conspiracy-theory induced fear of vaccination.

We are in the golden age of anti-vaccine conspiracies. Creating herd immunity to COVID-19 requires overcoming such anti-scientific mindsets in a large majority of the world population. Currently we don’t know if this is even possible. Without herd immunity, leading to the virtual extinction of COVID-19, the pandemic will drag on for a long time.

Accepting the above implies that, at best, we will not be able to substantially resume old normal in-person meetings until some time in 2022.

That means we will have two or more years without substantive numbers of interregional in-person meetings.

What will happen in the world of meetings during these two or more years?

Obviously, we have already seen a sudden, unexpected, and massive shift to online events.

All of us, save perhaps the most introvert, bemoan and mourn the loss of meeting in person. We love to complain about the blandness and limitations of online meetings.

Yet, during my experiences of hundreds of online meetings over the last seven months, I’ve noticed some surprising and unexpected developments.

1) It’s possible to significantly improve the quality of online meetings from dreary webinar formats. This is starting to happen.

It turns out that, for online events it’s easy to adapt most of the in-person meeting and session participant-driven and participation-rich formats I and others have developed over the last two decades. Many meeting conveners, responding to the deadliness of watching talking heads for hours a day, are learning how to create interactive online events that maintain attendee interest, improve learning, and build connection between participants.

Over the next two years, the quality of online meeting process will improve. This will make online options more attractive to meeting conveners than they were pre-pandemic.

2) Clearly beneficial meetings that simply would not have been held formerly in-person are taking place online.

Specifically, there has been a large increase in online meetings that support the wants and needs of communities of practice. In the past, these groups, with members typically widely separated geographically, would meet occasionally in-person, if at all.

It’s much easier and attractive for busy workers to attend short, regular, and well-focused and designed online meetings of their professional community than to set aside several days once or twice a year for travel to an in-person event. As a result, I am seeing significant growth of regularly scheduled online meetings for communities. Some of these communities are brand new. Starting them by meeting online is less of a barrier than all the work required and risk involved creating new in-person conferences with unpredictable initial attendance.

Many of these meetings will continue post-pandemic. Some will replace former in-person meetings.

3) The meeting industry is investigating and planning to adopt hybrid meeting formats more than ever before.

By the time the COVID-19 pandemic is (hopefully) over, everyone will be familiar with attending meetings online. Any post-pandemic meeting is, therefore, likely to have an online component, and will use one of the two core hybrid meeting formats. Whatever mix of traditional versus hub-and-spoke hybrid is adopted, we can be sure that there will be fewer old normal 100% in-person meetings.

Like what you read so far? Read Part 2 of this post, where I conclude my explanation why there will not be a meeting industry new normal.

How eventprofs are feeling during COVID-19

eventprofs feeling during COVID-19How are eventprofs feeling during COVID-19? Over the past few weeks in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, I’ve listened to hundreds of people share their feelings at online meetings I’ve led and joined. Though everyone’s response has been unique, three distinct sets of emotions stand out. Here they are, from the perspective of the many meeting professionals I’ve heard.

Anxious

eventprofs feeling during COVID-19I estimate that about 85% of the event professionals I listened to shared feelings of fear, compared to about 65% of the general population. The most common description I heard was anxiety/anxious. But strong expressions like “scared”, “terrified”, and “very worried” were more common than I expected (~5-10%).

This is hardly surprising. Every event professional who spoke had lost essentially all their short-term work and event-related income. In some cases, they were attempting under extreme time and resource pressures to move meetings online. The meeting industry has been struggling for years to understand and develop online meeting models that provide traditional face-to-face meetings’ desired outcomes and are both technically and financially feasible. To have to pivot to such modalities overnight — assuming they are even feasible for the specific meetings in question — is having a huge impact on every aspect of the meeting industry.

When your present circumstances and potential future dramatically change, feeling fear is a normal and healthy response. And fear of anticipated upsetting change leads to the next set of emotions…

Unsettled

eventprofs feeling during COVID-19About half of event professionals, and slightly less of everyone I heard, shared feeling unsettled. “Unsettled” is a mixture of fear and sadness we may feel when we experience the world as less predictable and our sense of control or comfort with our circumstances reduced.

Feeling unsettled is a natural response to perceived chaos, as illuminated by Virginia Satir‘s change model.

Above is a diagram of Satir’s model of change. An old status quo (the event industry before COVID-19) is disrupted by a foreign element (the COVID-19 pandemic). Then we begin to live in chaos, and do not know what will happen next. This provokes our feeling unsettled. Such chaos continues for an unknown period of time. Eventually, a transforming idea or event (in this case, for example, perhaps the development of a vaccine) allows a period transition away from chaos towards a new status quo (hopefully, a post-pandemic world).

Hopeful

eventprofs feeling during COVID-19I was surprised that about half of the general populace mentioned feeling some form of hopefulness about their current situation. Event professionals were far less likely to share feeling this way. This discrepancy is probably because some of the non-event industry people were retirees, and others have escaped significant professional impact.

It makes sense to me that meeting professionals aren’t feeling especially hopeful right now. If/when the chaos and destruction of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, we don’t know how much delay there will be before face-to-face events are scheduled and run. And we also don’t know how our industry will change for good, and what our new roles in it will be.

My experience

These days, I feel all the above emotions (though not all at the same time 😀). Clients have cancelled all my short-term design and facilitation work. I love to facilitate connection, and feel sad at not having face-to-face interactions with clients and meeting participants. I am anxious about the health of my family and myself, and unsettled about an unknown future for my personal and professional life.

Yet I am also hopeful.

I have reached out to connect in real-time online. Although I have created and facilitated hundred of online meetings over the last ten years (from the days when video chat was a buggy and bandwidth-limited experience) I am continuing to learn more about facilitating connection around relevant content online. And I’m thinking about how online meetings can be significantly improved, using technology to create better implementations of the many in-person participation techniques I’ve developed and championed for decades.

What’s your experience of how eventprofs are feeling during COVID-19?

Please share your own experience and what you’ve heard from others in the comments below!

The corrosive effect of commissions on the meetings industry

The corrosive effect of commissions on the meetings industryOur industry is abuzz about the news of Marriott’s decision to cut third-party commissions for group bookings by thirty percent. And the response has been “harsh“, especially because of the extremely short notice (it will be going into effect on March 31, 2018) and once it became known that four large site selection firms would be “granted a temporary exception“.

Marriott’s announcement sparked the potential of a commission war (some independent properties are raising group booking commissions). It led to fear of further reductions or elimination of commissions by other suppliers in the future. Taking a wider view, let’s talk about the corrosive effect of commissions on the meeting industry.

Read the rest of this entry »

Reassuring news for event professionals from WillRobotsTakeMyJob.com

Reassuring news for event professionalsHere’s some reassuring news for event professionals from WillRobotsTakeMyJob.com. Our “Automated Risk Level” is “Totally Safe”. And the industry is projected to grow over time. Even so, there are some ominous clouds on the horizon, and one usually needs to take predictions about the future with a large pinch of salt.

I have other concerns. In the future, I think we’ll see more meetings move online. That will have an impact on the hospitality industry (no room nights, no F&B, and no travel) and, perhaps, reduce the number of event production staff.

Anyway, I hope this prediction’s right. We’ll see!

Is paid influencer marketing ethical in the event industry?

paid influencer marketing

Is paid influencer marketing ethical in the meeting industry?

Paid influencer marketing is spreading to the event industry, and I doubt that it’s an ethical practice.

I receive a voice mail

Last week I received the following voice mail (identifying details bleeped; transcript below.)

Hi Adrian, my name is _____, I work for an influence marketing agency _____, and I’m reaching out to you this afternoon about an opportunity with _____, who is one of our clients, and I know you are an influencer in the meeting/event/conference planning sphere which is the focus of this campaign with _____ and we’re just hoping to have you involved in this campaign: involves a blog post, some social posting, hopefully a visit to the property with a bit of filming. If you’re interested in more details I would love to chat with you; my phone number is _____. Thanks, and looking forward to talking to you soon; bye bye.”

I quickly learned that the agency called other event professionals with the same pitch. One of them, whom I’ll call InfluentialEventProf, forwarded me an email with more details of how the “opportunity” would work (identifying details replaced with generic terms):

An email pitch

From: YYY@InfluenceMarketingCompany.com
To: InfluentialEventProf@InfluentialEventProfDomain.com
Sent: 9/8/2016
Subj: Paid Campaign Opportunity: Complimentary Stay at Property Z

Hi InfluentialEventProf,

Hope this note finds you very well! Brand X’s Property in Somewhere, USA is a client of ours, and I am working on an influencer campaign to help promote Property Z’s event spaces as ideal venues for conferences and corporate meetings. Brand X would love to have you–a known industry expert on event/meeting planning–involved in this campaign!

We are inviting you to come for a complimentary stay to experience Property Z during a major Industry Sector S conference during TheseDates. Brand X would like you to review the visit and conference experience on your company’s blog and promote Property Z on social media. To give you a general idea of the campaign’s scope, here are some details regarding the influencer package and campaign components:

Influencer package:

One or two (1-2) complimentary nights at Property Z (dependent on your availability)

One (1) complimentary breakfast

One (1) complimentary dinner

$500 compensation

Complimentary parking

Campaign components:

One (1) post-stay blog post highlighting the Property Z as a venue for corporate conferences/meetings/events. Ideally, this blog post would be published both on your company’s blog and on your Linkedin page.

Two (2) real-time Twitter photo posts during your stay

Two (2) post-stay Twitter photo posts

(Use the hashtags of {3 PropertyZHashtags}, and any Property Z social channel handles on all relevant content.)

Would you be interested in participating? If so, I can send you more detailed information regarding these campaign components.

We are really hoping to work with you!

All the best,

YYY

Paid influencer marketing

This is classic paid influencer marketing via social media, a rapidly growing marketing trend since 2014. Celebrities are paid big bucks to casually introduce positive experience of brands into their social media feeds. Now event industry influencers are being asked to do the same thing.

Will Brand X require all resulting social media posts by InfluentialEventProf to be labeled “Sponsored”? (Does “Sponsored” even fit into the resulting tweets?) Will the post-stay blog post include the information that the stay and meals were paid for by Brand X and that the InfluentialEventProf was paid a fee by Brand X?

Even if InfluentialEventProf provides all this information, there is plenty of research that shows that such paid marketing biases influencers to be more positive about their review than they would have been otherwise. (See, for example: High bias found in Amazon reviews of low-cost or free samples, where the provision of free or low-cost products boosted ratings from the 54th percentile to the 94th percentile!)

So, is paid influencer marketing ethical?

I think such practices are ethically questionable. The CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct Statement and Policy includes the pledge “Never use my position for undue personal gain and to promptly disclose to appropriate parties all potential and actual conflicts of interest“, and I’d argue that what is being offered here is “undue personal gain”. In addition, any employee event professional should review their employer’s ethics policy. And consider these questions to0:

  • “In what way could you justify participation to your employer?”
  • “In what way could you justify participation to your clients?”
  • “Are there ways that this participation could influence site selection?”

What do you think?

[My thanks to InfluentialEventProf for permission given to reproduce the above email, and for suggestions that improved this post.]

A request for workshop help

Help request for workshopsI am looking for your help to hold workshops that I believe will significantly improve the quality of meetings.

Since 1992 I’ve been developing participation techniques that radically improve conference sessions and entire meetings. Over the last five years I have run a variety of 3 – 8 hour workshops where participants learn to facilitate and appreciate some of these techniques through direct experience. These meeting industry workshops have been very well received (references are available if you don’t know my work).

I believe there’s a real need for extended versions of these workshops — lasting 1½ – 2½ days — to give meeting planners, facilitators, and presenters a comprehensive interactive learning experience of these simple, yet powerful and effective ways to improve learning, connection, engagement, and action outcomes at our events.

I love designing and running these workshops, and I would like to offer them anywhere in the world there’s sufficient interest. They will typically be small, between 15 to 50 people.

I am not interested in making a ton of money doing this, just covering expenses and my standard fees. The more people who attend a workshop, the less it should cost them.

So I’m looking for partners and volunteers: people and organizations who are interested and willing to help make these workshops happen.

Perhaps:

  • You know people and/or groups who would want to attend and are willing to solicit them?
  • Such a workshop would fit into and complement one of your events?
  • You own a venue that could be used to host the workshop?
  • You, and perhaps others you know, want to attend one and have ideas about holding it at your location or for your community?
  • You can help in some other way?

I’m open to any kind of workable relationships (yes, you can be reimbursed/paid for your contributions) that make these workshops possible. Although my books continue to sell well and influence event design all over the world, after 25 years I’ve learned that most people only fully understand the value of these eye-opening ways to transform meetings by experiencing them, rather than reading about them.

Would you like to make these workshops possible? Can you help? Then I’d love to work with you. Please contact me at adrian@segar.com.

‘Twas the Hangout before Christmas…

‘Twas the Hangout before Christmas, when all through the net
#Eventprofs were stirring, their email to get;
The BEOs were hung on clipboards with care,
In hopes that the caterers soon would be there;
Attendees were nestled all snug in their chairs;
While visions of aerialists danced in the air;
And friends on their laptops, and I on my Mac,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s hack,
When out on Twitter there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my Steelcase to see what was the matter.
Away to my browser I flew like a flash,
Quick opened a new tab and beefed up the cache.
The glow of the screen on my new bluetooth keyboard,
Gave a lustre of ROI promised reward,
When what to my wondering eyes did arrive,
But a whole slew of tweets and +Thom Singer alive
With @PinkDeb+Brandt Krueger+Brad Wilson — a riot!
Followed by +Dan Parks & dear +Jenise Fryatt
+Sue Pelletier+Brad Wilson+Andrea Gold — a battalion!
+Heidi Thorne+Elizabeth Glau & +KiKi L’Italien
So I whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
Now +Tahira Endean, you grand superstar
+Anne Thornley-Brown+Dahlia El Gazzar
To the top of the page! to the top of the list!
Duck under the velvet rope, come to be kissed!
As leaves that before the room turnover rise,
When they meet with an obstacle, we all improvise;
So up to the hangout the #eventprofs they flew
With the click of a mouse, and some first-timers too
Appeared on the chat with a beer in their hand
Or an old-fashioned cocktail (all fresh, nothing canned)…

So come join us shortly if that’s what you’d like
If we say we can’t hear you please unmute your mike!

Details: You’ll need an invite—if you want one just contact me on Google Plus!

Will Airbnb impact traditional meeting room blocks?

airbnb growth tweetBrian Chesky, 32, is the founder and CEO of Airbnb, “a community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world” that was founded in 2008 and, in just six years is expected to become the world’s largest hotelier.

Recently there have been a number of interesting articles—e.g. The Hotelier’s Invisible Enemy, Instead Of Paying $500/Night To Stay At A Courtyard, I Booked This $150/Night Airbnb Room In San Francisco, and How Airbnb Is Crushing Traditional Hotel Brands—that discuss from various perspectives how Airbnb is starting to impact the hotel industry. So, how will the meteoric growth of Airbnb affect the traditional room block model that the meeting industry has used for many years?

Perhaps the most informative answer to this question to date comes from a study published in December 2013: The Rise of the Sharing Economy: Estimating the Impact of Airbnb on the Hotel Industry by G Zervas, D Proserpio, and J Byers, at the Boston University School of Management <pdf, free download>. The research looked at data collected from Texas hotels between 2008 and 2013 and found that:

  • Every 1 percent increase in the number of Airbnb bookings led to a .05 percent decrease in hotel revenue;
  • The impact of Airbnb falls disproportionately on hotels with little or no conference space; and
  • Luxury and upscale hotels in Texas were not significantly impacted by the arrival of Airbnb.

At first sight, this doesn’t look too bad for the meetings industry, unless you’re booking room blocks in midprice or value hotels. But I think there are some factors that this excellent study of the past doesn’t include when we attempt to predict the future.

Airbnb is still relatively unknown and is growing incredibly quickly
Airbnb’s growth is commonly described as “hockey-stick” (think Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth). Check out the company’s online interactive annual report for details. Airbnb had booked 5 million cumulative nights by February 2012; by June, it had doubled that to 10 million. A year ago I knew nothing about Airbnb and never considered staying anywhere but a hotel or traditional B&B when I traveled. Having trouble finding conventional accommodation for a trip that met my needs, I joined Airbnb in September 2013, along with 5 million other people that year. Since then I have already used the service four times. What happens as we pass the early adopter stage and move into a world where it’s easy and normal to stay in/rent out residential accommodations for short periods?

Might meeting attendees start sharing Airbnb accommodations?
I just returned from PCMA Convening Leaders in Boston. I have a local apartment, so I commuted and didn’t stay in the room block but the conference offered block rooms from $175 – $209 per night single/double occupancy. A quick browse of Airbnb turned up several small attractive two-bedroom apartments within a few blocks at $170 per night (for two occupants, $150 for one) with kitchen, internet, and a washer & dryer. While there’s no way that Airbnb can currently match the quantity of hotel rooms available around the Hynes Convention Center, the offerings I found were extremely competitive on price alone, and included amenities that are not available for free or at all in most hotels. And given that two employees could stay in separate bedrooms in one of these Airbnb properties, the cost savings become even more attractive.

Airbnb offers rooming options that are often not available via traditional accommodations
The four Airbnb reservations I’ve made since joining the service have all been in San Francisco. My younger daughter lives within a few blocks of Golden Gate Park, and there are only two bed and breakfasts (and no hotels) in her area. Both B&B’s were booked when we wanted to be there, but an Airbnb search turned up many options for staying close to her apartment. Since we didn’t want to share a home with others we searched Airbnb for self-contained apartments and found two nearby that matched our requirements. If room blocks sell out I believe that the variety of Airbnb choices close to a meeting venue provide an attractive backup. And if room prices are seen as too high, Airbnb makes it easy to search for nearby cost-effective alternatives.

Airbnb makes it easy to look for just what you need
I have a personal story here. Last month, my younger daughter was crossing the street at a crosswalk in San Francisco when she was hit by a car, breaking both her legs. (Luckily she suffered no other injuries and should eventually be fine.) After surgery and rehab she could not return to her apartment right away, as it is, like many San Francisco accommodations, only accessible via a steep flight of steps. We faced an immediate problem of finding her somewhere to stay that was handicap accessible in central San Francisco, close to friends that could assist her, for about six weeks until she could weight-bear and get around on crutches.

Short-term rental agents were unable or unwilling to return our calls. Hotels had a few handicap accessible rooms but provided nowhere for her to cook any meals. Craigslist, besides being a potential source of sketchy room listings, presented us with the daunting prospect of calling every potential lister to find out whether the accommodation was accessible.

Airbnb allowed us to quickly search for handicap accessible accommodations for our daughter. Based on the detailed listings and customer reviews we were able to pick several possibilities and send messages to the owners asking about access, door widths, etc. As a result we were able to find two three-week rentals that fit our unusual criteria. Without Airbnb I’m not sure what we would have done.

Quirkiness can be compelling
Yes, there are many meeting attendees who want the predictability of a bland hotel room. But the boutique hotel sector is one of the fastest growing, an indication, perhaps that quirky Airbnb accommodations are an attractive alternative for an increasing number of business travelers who enjoy something a little different from the average cookie-cutter places to stay. Airbnb, which offers everything from a couch in a room in someone’s home to modernist architecture, green buildings, and castles has something for everyone.

Conclusion
Clearly I’m a fan of Airbnb. Signing up for the service was reassuringly thorough; the verification process required social media logins—either Facebook or LinkedIn—plus offline proof of ID, a driver’s license or passport (digital scanning included in the Airbnb app) and took about 30 minutes. (If you’re still concerned about staying at a listed property, you can choose those that have enough satisfied user reviews to reassure you.)

As meeting designer who is occasionally given responsibility for attendee accommodations, I fully understand the reasons for room blocks and will continue to use them myself whenever possible. The question remains whether more meeting attendees will, like me, join the Airbnb bandwagon and add it to their list of alternatives to the room block. Only time will tell, but my gut feeling is that over the next five to ten years Airbnb will noticeably reduce the demand for in block housing, creating a significant impact on how we’ll need to plan our meeting accommodations.