Geofencing and proximity-based technology will create new ways of providing attendee engagement, attendee interaction and information. These new technologies are exciting examples of how the quickly changing arena of mobile technology will have significant effects on events and tradeshows.

A geofence is a virtual perimeter around a geographic area, such as a hotel, a conference center, an exhibition or any another arbitrary boundary. When a mobile device using a geofence service enters or exits the ‘fence,’ the device receives a notification, often in the form of an alert or a mobile coupon. A geofence notice may be sent to another mobile phone or e-mail account as well. Although a relatively new concept, geofencing is beginning to be used for marketing, security and anti-theft purposes.

Specifically, iBeacon is a new geofencing technology that will likely have a major impact on events. iBeacon transmitters use Low Energy Bluetooth (BLE), also known as Bluetooth 4.0, and can exchange information with iOS and Android devices to create engagement opportunities at events. They have multiple benefits: The beacons are low-cost (as low as $10 each), low-power/maintenance (a device can last over a year on a single battery) and have up to a 150-foot range. Unlike NFC (Near Field Communication), iBeacon has been embraced by Apple’s iOS, which opens the opportunities to a broader range of mobile users.

iBeacons can be used for events to assist in the following:

  • Location information and navigation assistance: A geofence can notify attendees where they are on a map and help them navigate to where they want to go.
  • Gamification and scavenger hunts
  • Attendee welcome and other location-based alert notifications or app launching upon arrival
  • Automatic attendee check-in to an event zone; a badge can be printed automatically upon arrival with a notification sent to the recipient with the badge printer location.
  • Social media networking and information exchange. The communication can be two-way, so, with user permission, the phone app can transmit contact information, social media profiles, specific meeting room access information, meal tracking, food preferences and much more. Communication between attendees can be enhanced with notification/pictures/information about who is nearby.
  • Lead exchange/tracking
  • Exhibit booth dwell-time measurement
  • Automated demonstrations (videos, etc.) for exhibit booth products or any other interest point in a conference venue
  • Exhibitors can send out targeted messages to different categories of participants.
  • Automated continuing education unit (CEU) tracking
  • The venues can provide information to visitors and local area merchants can send discount coupons to convention attendees.
  • AV companies or venues can be notified if unauthorized equipment with an RFID tag linked to a geofence is removed from the premise.
  • Attendee action metrics: Organizers will be able to track where attendees are spending their time and be notified of traffic patterns (i.e., an inordinately long registration line). These data can be very helpful for marketing and event logistics improvement.

iBeacons were used at the world’s largest trade show (CES 2014) for a scavenger hunt to encourage attendees to navigate the exhibit halls. They are also being installed in sports arenas to engage fans and in museums such as the Rubens House in Antwerp, Belgium, to provide visitors with location-based information about what they are seeing. Geo-positioning technologies with specific event applications are being developed by app companies such as, TapCrowd and Topi.

There are some drawbacks to iBeacons, however. Bluetooth must be switched on in order to receive iBeacon information. This takes power (although with BLE this is very minimal), and some mobile users turn off Bluetooth to extend battery life.

Also, some people may not opt-in due to privacy concerns or not wanting a stream of alert notifications. However, if there is a demonstrated value, such as the ones listed above, there will be a good chance of high utilization.