Mystic Meg, eat your heart out!

Posted on Sun 15th Dec 2019 at 8:27pm

On the eve of the next decade, the Twenties – would you believe it – I thought it might be interesting to review my forecasts of the year that has just gone. Whilst it’s easy enough for anyone to peel off some vague predictions, if no-one is going to check them against reality a year on, what’s the point?

So, in the interests of better forecasting, let’s have a look at my predictions from last year, which were:

  • The rise of talking chatbots at events
  • The rise of Body & Soul Events
  • The rejection of disposable plastics
  • The rise of the event freelance and e-lance market
  • The rise of facial recognition technology


Well, chatbots are certainly on the rise, but they’re still not talking much. If you’re unfortunate, you might have been called by a talking chatbot about “an accident that wasn’t your fault” - but it’s not hugely different from listening to a recorded message.

Chatbots on websites, however, are becoming progressively better at responding to written questions, directing online chat sessions to the right human, and I still think that talking chatbots have a bright future as telephone helpdesk operators. Machine learning, text-to-speech and speech recognition are all well-developed technologies, and products like Siri, Google Nest and Alexa show us what’s possible if they are combined.  I still think that the numbers of helpdesk and call centre operatives are going to shrink rapidly over the next few years, and it will become progressively easier for businesses and consumers to create intelligent chatbots with the same ease that they create online forms today.

Body and Soul events really did go mainstream in 2019, with all major newspapers running articles entitled “Top Ten Wellness Festivals” and the like, to help their discerning customers choose. From fitness festivals to mass meditation events, people seem to be spending more time and money on experiences and memories. Wellness is now a fully-fledged industry that is encompassing trends and fads of its own, including high-intensity training, a dozen different diets and food movements, mental health, beauty treatments, spiritual development, meditation and mindfulness and even religious gatherings, and it shows no signs of shrinking.

Disposable plastics really did become public enemy No. 1 in 2019, but it wasn’t too hard to predict – The Blue Planet TV series had created a powerful wave of awareness, and the call for biodegradable, reusable and recyclable alternatives swept the nation. Every event saw a switch, in varying degrees, from single-use plastics to paper straws, paper cups and wooden stirrers. But from a sustainability viewpoint, this is drop-in-the-ocean stuff. There still aren’t any easily recyclable beverage cups and only a few specialist recycling centres that can handle existing “compostable” cups. But there are some real big wins too, not least the recent announcement that the NEC  saved a massive 927 million litres of water in the ten years of NEC Sustain – the venue’s all-encompassing environmental programme. The popularity of reusable water bottles has continued to rise, but whether there has been a corresponding drop in bottled water isn’t clear.

When I predicted the rise of the online market for event freelancers, I may have jumped the gun a little! Whilst there are plenty of “lone wolves” working in events, they are finding work through personal recommendation and repeat business, but we haven’t yet seen online resources or brokerages matching freelancers with exhibition or conference work. There’s a huge amount of teamwork involved when it comes to building and creating events, so perhaps this is a factor, and one of the reasons we haven’t seen the Uber or Deliveroo of events emerge yet.

Facial recognition technology managed to get in the news quite a bit in 2019, but again, my prediction that conference speakers would be able to view live feedback of audience sentiment was a bit too far in the future. Law enforcement and security are showing a great deal of interest in facial recognition systems, and I do think it is only a matter of time before conference registration and exhibition entry are using them to confirm the arrival and departure of delegates and visitors. There is some resistance to the technology from the public at large, and a general feeling that it amounts to unwanted surveillance which is not completely unwarranted. It remains to be seen whether the convenience offered by facial recognition in the events will ever outweigh those concerns in the mind of the visiting public.

If I was being generous, I would award myself 3/5 for these forecasts or a final mark of 60%. Not bad, but I could do better. I will, of course, be gazing into the tea leaves to find out what 2020 has in store for us in the world of events, and making a few forecasts based on what I’ve observed at events around the country this year. Stay tuned!


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