Events could be the next sector to get shaken up by the ‘sharing economy’. Should established players be quaking? We investigate

Words: Stuart Derrick

The sharing economy What does it mean for venues - venue finding

If you’ve ever hopped into an Uber cab, enjoyed a weekend away courtesy of Airbnb, or even hired a designer outfit for a gala event from Rent the Runway, you’re already part of the sharing economy.

The idea that anyone can make under-utilised assets – whether it’s a room, car or outfit – available to other people for a fee has been at the heart of a new approach to ownership and use of commodities. 

Until recently, it was mainly transactions between private individuals, but B2B is now the area to watch. PwC recently predicted that the sharing economy, currently worth about £7bn in the UK, will grow to £140bn by 2025. Shared economy businesses have changed the way we book holidays, travel and find workmen. Could events be next?

A host of new players certainly think so, and are bringing the sharing (or ‘collaborative’) economy to the sector. Collaboration is part of the fabric of meetings and events, but opinions differ as to the likely impact of the sharing economy.

The sharing economy What does it mean for venues - alistair stewart etc venues

Alastair Stewart, MD of Etc Venues, is blunt about its impact. ‘No, it’s not happening. We do very little business with SMEs or the sort of people who want to do business in a coffee shop or an airport lounge. It’s not our market and it won’t hit the mainstream.’ 

Tracy Halliwell, director of business tourism and major events at London & Partners, agrees that interest in the sharing economy has yet to have a serious effect on how events are organised. ‘It hasn’t resulted in major changes for the meetings and events industry here, which largely books traditional venues such as hotels, conference centres and restaurants.’ 

What works for the individual, providing a quick, easy and cheap alternative for accommodation and transport, does not always transfer easily to the more complex demands of an event. For an organiser dealing with overlapping deadlines, multiple suppliers and a discerning audience that expects certain service levels, the advantages may be slim.

On the other hand, with budgets under scrutiny, the sharing economy may help deliver lower costs. Online platforms such as Venue Finder, Splacer or show collaboration tool Showslice may help with shorter deadlines. And in an age where everybody wants the next new thing, the sharing economy is opening up a market full of unusual venues, dining options and experiences.

So, what effect will it have on events? We looked at three areas where it could shape the way in which events are organised.

Splacer was started by architects in Tel Aviv and now has a presence there and in five US cities. The focus is on creative spaces and private residences – the sort that may not turn up in more traditional venue searches. Event organisers can browse listings and filter spaces by size, location, event type or general keyword. When they find what they like, they connect directly with the space owner and rent it by the hour.

Venues can be used for a wide variety of events including fashion shows, weddings, pop-ups, dinners and meetings. At last count, Splacer had 1,360 venues in the US, with more than half in New York. It wants to double its listings and enter the UK by the end of the year.

For event organisers seeking a more traditional and/or high-end venue, US platform Bizly provides bookings for luxury hotels, with a focus on last-minute availability. It claims to have signed up more than 100 hotel brands in six cities, including pilots with Starwood and Hyatt properties. Its aim is to streamline the cumbersome process of finding and booking hotel meeting rooms, using hourly rates.

Event organisers can compare availability, prices and amenities. After booking a meeting room, options include sending meeting invites, and arranging catering and Uber rides. Once a booking is made, attendees receive an access pass with information including location, the wi-fi password and the on-site contact. At the moment, Bizly remains a US-only business – but watch this space.

The sharing economy What does it mean for venues - airbnb

In the UK, Headbox offers 4,000 venues to choose from. Users can search using filters that include type of event, date, number of guests and facilities. Peerspace has a similar offering, but its footprint covers both the US and Europe – it lists venues in London, Berlin and Paris. It also has a concierge team to help with the other elements of planning an event, such as catering, AV, furniture rental and staff.

Randle Stonier, founder of events agency AddingValue, says the market is starting to get a bit crowded. ‘All of these companies are coming at it from a slightly different angle, but there are too many offering a similar service. There will be mergers and acquisitions.’ 

According to Simon Lockwood, creative director at The Brewery, ‘These players could offer an interesting alternative search for event organisers who need a creative venue that’s a bit different. However, in the B2B events market, the requirements of the organiser are often more complex. They may have multiple streams for their conference, need a specific menu, or have a particular awards theme in mind,’ he says. ‘It would be impossible to cater for all of these different eventualities with one app. Speaking directly to someone at a venue would offer a solution that works.’

Lockwood also doubts that existing sharing-economy platforms integrate with venues’ management systems to reflect the continually changing state of bookings and prices at somewhere like The Brewery.

Etc Venues’ Alastair Stewart also encourages event organisers to go direct. Etc has pulled its presence from some venue-finding sites as he thinks the brand can stand alone. ‘We want to be the Direct Line of the meetings market, so that people come straight to us. We own all of our own inventory and are very selective about who we partner with.’

Click here to find out what the sharing economy means for catering, and here to find out what it means for transport

This article was first published in SquareMeal Venues + Events, Spring/Summer 2017