An eager crowd of around 70 meetings industry professionals gathered to hear a cosmopolitan line-up of business executives talk about the disruptive possibilities of the sharing economy at IMEX America, on October 17.
In a session facilitated by SoolNua’s Padraic Gilligan, five company directors each described their respective business models, their history, challenges and opportunities. Each then closed their 6-minutes in the spotlight by posing a question to the audience.
Setting the scene for the session, which was designed to reveal how US buyers and suppliers view sharing economy services, Gilligan explained, “Be it space, goods, health, food or experiences, the fact is we could choose to live our whole lives in the world of the so-called sharing economy if we wanted to.”
Taking the floor first, Ciaran Delaney, founder of Meetingsbooker.com told the story of how his company was born. “Back in 2009 I needed to book a meeting for 20 people, and I had a lead time of two weeks. I thought it would be a breeze. I was wrong! It ended up taking me three days and 34 emails, most with hefty menu and contract attachments. In one case the contract was 15 pages long! I knew there had to be a better, faster, simpler way – and Meetingsbooker.com became that solution.”
Birth of a new economy
Following on, Damian Jon Oracki, CEO of Showslice UK ltd, reminded the audience that “cheap smartphones have changed everything. The internet has gone through many phases since it launched and the phase we’re currently in is one where we can easily share assets, thanks to a device we all own and hold in one hand.” Oracki’s view is that even the words ‘sharing economy’ don’t aid understanding or open mindedness, especially in the B2B sector. “I call this new economy, just that – a new economy…it’s a type of incoherent innovation, and part of the issue is that it’s hard to label. ‘New economy’ works for me.”
Throughout the one and a half hour discussion some startling statistics were revealed, not least that Airbnb predicts it will be handling one billion room nights per year by 2025.
Audience responses to the speaker questions varied, although generally IMEX America attendees were more trusting and receptive to the potential of sharing economy services than those who attended a similar discussion at IMEX in Frankfurt earlier this year.
Reservations still revolve around trusting these new service providers and issues of risk, compliance and individual safety.
Also sharing their stories and advocating for a shift in thinking and, potentially, buying behaviour among meeting professionals were Nancy Branka, Chief Content Officer at Bizly and Gary Schirmacher, SVP of Maritz Global Events.
Jean Michel-Petit, Co-Founder and CEO of VizEat summed up the spirit of the debate, and of the opportunities available to meetings planners by saying, “Take the original social network, the one where people come face to face to share, meet and connect…and it’s a table. We’ve taken that ‘network’ – sharing food around a table – and provided a way for travellers, be they leisure or business, to enjoy unique experiences with local people. With over 20,000 hosts in 110 countries we’ve rapidly become Europe’s leading immersive food experience. I know this is something that meetings and event planners can easily relate to. They’re in the business of experiences.”
In his reaction to VizEat’s proposition, Sean Lynch, Executive Vice President of NHS Global Events voiced the opinion of many delegates in the room. “That’s kinda cool,” he said.
Lynch, who has attended every IMEX America since it started, was intrigued and excited by the day’s debate. “This was innovative, creative and entrepreneurial. It’s a mind-bending new approach to business that’s certainly got my attention.”