How Convention Centers Are Incubating Events Industry Recovery

Convention centers around the world have repurposed their facilities to meet the needs of hybrid and virtual events — and the Palais des congrès de Montréal is tapping into the future of events in a different way.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Oasis Immersion Montreal

The 20,000-square-foot Oasis immersion space at the Palais des congrès de Montréal is embedded with hundreds of surround-sound speakers, LED lights, and projectors.

The business model for convention centers underwent the event industry’s most public-facing change during the pandemic, serving their communities as makeshift hospitals, shelters, and vaccination sites — short-term models to meet a health and social crisis. Many have remade their facilities for the long-term future of events, building broadcasting studios equipped with green rooms, cameras, livestreaming capabilities, and more for virtual and hybrid meetings. Among them: New York City’s Javits Center; Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center; America’s Center in St. Louis; Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center; Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center; the Baltimore Convention Center; Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center; Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center; Salt Lake’s Salt Palace Convention Center; and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center
in Pittsburgh. A short list from around the world includes ExCeL London; Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands; Messe Wien Exhibition & Congress Center in Vienna, Austria; and ICC Sydney.

RELATED: The New Now: How the Pandemic Changed the Events Industry

The Palais des congrès de Montréal was reimagining its business model prior to the pandemic. In March 2019, the Palais became a Grand Partner of MT Lab, North America’s first innovation incubator — established by the University of Quebec in Montréal and its School of Management Sciences, with Tourisme Montréal and the City of Montréal — dedicated to tourism, culture, and entertainment. The partnership, a press release said at the time, “will see the Palais work with Montréal start-ups to develop the convention centre of the future.”

The innovation areas targeted by the MT Lab read like the ultimate wish list for the business events industry: tools that help automate decision making and increase revenue; new ways to lessen the environmental impact of events; and new multisensory, interactive and/or immersive concepts that elicit emotional responses from participants.

The Lab invites entrepreneurs with ideas for innovations that solve their partners’ challenges to apply for residencies that include coaching and access to MT Lab’s business partners. The partnerships are “bringing in a collision of new, new ideas from the outside sectors,” Robert Mercure, former CEO of the Palais, said last year.

“The pandemic triggered a divide between leaders and actors that had fallen behind within our industry,” said Martin Lessard, the lab’s managing director. Instead of slowing down as the pandemic closed venues and borders, the MT Lab and its partners accelerated, nearly doubling the size of its team, and launching a condensed program to help create opportunities for the industry’s recovery.

MT Lab’s eight pillars of innovation — data, reception, mobility, experience, processes, human resources, promotion, and impact — have remained the same throughout the pandemic, Lessard said, but the innovation needs from key sectors of the industry have changed, including an emphasis on contactless services, virtual human resource solutions, sanitization technologies, and new hospitality experiences, and more.

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.

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