Disruption has come to the meeting and events industry. And as digital alternatives such as live streaming and virtual conferences pick up steam, the pressure is on venues to deliver unique, on-site experiences that keep crowds coming back.
“One thing we learned years ago is that we’re selling experiences, not square feet,” says Robert Mercure, CEO of Montreal’s Palais des congrès. “When you start to look at physical venues as places to bring people together, stimulate creativity, strengthen relationships, and make memories, that’s when you can offer something a virtual meeting cannot.”
This philosophy has served Mercure well through his roles with some Montreal’s biggest venues, and now as the lead of the Palais. It is also an outlook that inspired Mercure to launch the new CITÉ event innovation incubator, an initiative designed to spark new ideas in increasingly competitive meeting and events space.
CITÉ’s mandate is rooted in its name. An acronym for the Center of Innovation and Transformation of Events, CITÉ’s mission is to connect event industry innovators and trailblazers with meeting planners to help their event make an impact.
“We’re creating a network of start-ups who are essentially event disruptors,” explains Mercure. “Our intent isn’t to run events for our clients, but rather to facilitate a connection between them and some of the city’s most innovative players.”
“There’s a huge opportunity for both our clients and us to find those creative meeting solutions and bring them into our events,” he continues.
The Palais isn’t alone in its objective. The venue has partnered with MT Lab, a local innovation hub, to recruit start-ups that will bring the CITÉ vision to life. From inventive presentation tools to creative décor, and interactive tech to immersive entertainment, CITÉ is intended to be a launching pad for new event ideas.
“Think of CITÉ as something of an event’s psychiatrist where clients can come in, sit down with these creative specialists, and discuss how they can overcome their biggest challenges and design an event that’s going to truly bring people through the door,” offers Mercure.
That being said, if finding new ways to engage crowds is a top priority for today’s meeting planners, then sticking to budget is a close second. Herein, the Palais intends to offer initial consultations with CITÉ’s creative specialists as a value-add and then let them decide if they want to take the partnership further.
“We recognize that planners have to make a bigger splash with fewer resources these days, so all we want to do is show them the realm of what’s possible and let them take it from there,” Mercure adds.
While CITÉ is still in its foundational stages, the Palais has already attracted five start-ups to the program. The goal, says Mercure, is to expand those numbers into double digits and, potentially down the road, provide them with room to flourish within the venue itself.
“We know it takes a lot more to get guests to come out to a face-to-face event, and that organizations don’t always have the time, people, and resources to figure out how to do that,” says Mercure. “CITÉ is our solution. It’s a way to bring planners and creative specialists to the same table in a fun and highly productive way to develop creative, cost-friendly, and realistic ways to reinvent themselves and, in the process, drive attendance and revenues for their events.”
As for what those solutions may look like, Mercure says he’s eager to find out. “The reality is we don’t know. We don’t have all the answers. This initiative is going to continue to define and redefine itself over time as our customers evolve, and that’s what makes it exciting.”