In many ways, the past year-and-a-half has been a warp-speed adolescence for the business events industry — a period of awkward realizations and growing pains, but also transformation. The time was ripe for a meeting of the minds, and in August Maritz Global Events laid the framework for that conversation at its first in-person industry gathering in 18 months, Next&.
“The idea was to bring the entire event ecosystem together… to have a lively dialogue around what we can do to create the future,” said Greg Bogue, enterprise vice president of experience and innovation ecosystems at Maritz.
Held over four days at the Hyatt Regency Seattle, the event hosted more than 500 attendees, including Maritz team members; partners and suppliers including DMOs, production companies, and hoteliers; as well as Maritz clients. Bogue and his team scrapped the typical conference breakneck pace and instead opted for a looser, more casual approach. Days were broken up into 45-minute or shorter sessions, interspersed with 30-minute breaks and long lunches, designed intentionally to allow space for attendees’ individual comfort levels.
Visit Seattle was also on hand, setting up an on-site installation that showcased local women-owned businesses. The team also pulled together a menu of local experiences for attendees to immerse themselves in, including a tour of local breweries, kayaking on Lake Union, a citywide scavenger hunt, and a volunteer “gleaning” opportunity with FareStart, a local nonprofit that redirects excess food from local farms and other sources to needy populations.
The ultimate focal point of Next& experience was its “Solution Studios.” Held on the final day, these workshops of 15 attendees or fewer gave the group a chance to talk through the content from the previous conference days. “We have a great opportunity right now to really elevate the culture of our industry and draw people back into it,” Bogue said. “So how do we do that? The underlying idea with the Solution Studios is to give people an opportunity to really voice what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and turn that into dialogue.” Ultimately, the fruits of that dialogue culminated in 31 solutions, which touch on everything from the industry’s recovery to DEI. Maritz plans to release a full report this fall.
In several ways, meeting in Seattle helped to spur those lightbulb moments. Not only is the destination a veteran host of incentive, corporate, and association events, Seattle also personifies the same kind of forward-thinking spirit behind the event. A birthplace to big ideas (hello Amazon), Seattle’s energy just felt right. “We are a progressive and innovative and experimental city, so I think it was a good backdrop to try something new,” said Kelly Saling, vice president of convention sales and services at Visit Seattle. “Our intention was to bring the community together and let [them] restore, reconnect, and reenvision the future,” adds Bogue. “And Seattle was a great place for that to occur.”
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