Open Data: A Key to Future-Proof Business Events
Successful digital transformation needs systematic data management
The meetings and conference sector is undergoing a major transformation process. While events have always evolved in line with developments in society, recent years have seen unprecedented change. Rapid technological progress, the increasingly noticeable effects of climate change, international conflicts and the consequences of the pandemic show that there can be no "back to square one". This very fact, however, opens up enormous potential for all stakeholders in the business event industry.
Business Events as a Driving Force
Business events are not just the object of transformation, or even at its mercy, but also significantly contribute to solving the complex challenges of our time. With the wide range of content they deliver to audiences, they can become a driving force for addressing a multitude of problems in business, society and politics. Together with our sector’s stakeholders, Germany can in this context play a key role due to the country‘s international standing as a MICE destination.
In purely quantitative terms, Germany has consistently ranked among the top international meeting destinations for many years. According to IPK International, Germany was once again the most popular business travel destination for Europeans in 2021, with just under half of these 4.5 million trips being MICE occasions. Globally, too, there is no country that attracts more business-related trips than Germany. However, maintaining and indeed increasing these valuable market shares for the future requires ongoing development in a fast-moving competitive environment with changing customer needs. Against this background, I would like to focus on the digital transformation as one of the megatrends shaping the transformation of business events and discuss the corresponding necessity of systematic data management.
AI in the MICE Sector
Chatbots supporting the booking process, public transport routes adapted to passenger preferences or self-check-in at events – the use of artificial intelligence (AI) around business events is not a question of "if" but of "when" and "how". A possible future scenario could be a "Smart Meeting Assistant" (SMA), which the GCB and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO identified in their study on the platform economy. This SMA, powered by sophisticated AI, could support event planners throughout the entire customer journey, from the initial idea and event development through to evaluating attendee data post-event.
Whatever might ultimately happen with AI in business events, be it the implementation of SMAs or other tools that we can currently not even fathom, there is one fundamental truth: the use of AI is not and can never be an end in itself, but always serves to fulfil the needs of customers as best as possible, to improve their user experiences and therefore also to align the marketing of products and services accordingly. The key to achieving this goal lies in digital data management.
Seamless MICE instead of Data Patchwork
Trivial but true: AI applications need data. Lots of it. When it comes to digital data management and AI, it is therefore key to break down data and application silos in order to be able to provide users, such as event planners or attendees, with the desired correct information quickly as well as in a structured, up-to-date and personalised way. Connected data plays an important role in this context. A simple example shows why: planning to attend an event usually consists of a large number of individual steps, including booking train/plane tickets and accommodation as well as checking the weather, possibly researching taxi services, the locations of rental bikes or e-scooters, local restaurants, the event programme, safety and hygiene precautions and so on. Currently, this requires an almost equally large number of applications, which present users with a patchwork scenario instead of a “seamless MICE” experience as each application manages its own data.
Sophisticated Data Infrastructure
A high-quality data infrastructure, including open data, can address this issue. For the products and services of German business event providers to be found and processed in the future at as many digital touch points as possible as well as across different output channels, they must be machine-readable and meet certain requirements, i.e. they must be available in a uniform manner. This provides the basis for efficiently using the possibilities of digital technologies such as AI for the marketing of products and services. By linking the data in a knowledge graph, the relationships between different data can also be displayed and delivered via semantic queries.
Open Data for Germany’s Meetings Market
The German National Tourist Board is currently implementing its "Open Data in Tourism" project together with regional tourist boards and the Magic Cities tourism initiative. Lead by the GCB German Convention Bureau, the country’s MICE industry will link up with this project to map its offers as comprehensively as possible in the form of open data and bundle them in a knowledge graph. This will make offers more accessible and interlinked for complex queries. Open data is not only key for achieving greater visibility and reach for Germany as a meetings destination to secure valuable market shares in international competition. It also saves time for service providers managing their data and keeping it up to date. Plus, open data is a basis for innovative applications and services that can generate significant added value for event planners.
Human Input Indispensable
All of the above does not mean that open data and AI will make human interaction obsolete. In fact, the opposite is true: “Digitalisation is ultimately all about people. AI is an opportunity to reach people even more quickly, to delve deeper into the reasons that drive their wishes and requirements, and to use mass-customised services to achieve a new level of customer satisfaction”, says Petra Hedorfer, Chairwoman of the Board of the German National Tourist Board in her introduction to a GNTB magazine on AI. Platform economy applications, highly developed AI or open data projects require that employees have comprehensive digital skills, however, at the same time they enable saving time and energy and using resources in more effective ways. Digitalisation and automation do not mean that the people business of events becomes an IT business. Technology supports people in focusing on what really matters and fulfilling exactly those tasks that no AI system will be able to take over in the foreseeable future, i.e. providing personalised advice, taking care of guests or initiating creative processes for engaging events in authentic surroundings.