This exploratory study explores perceptions of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and organizational readiness to adopt AI, in the exhibition sector of the events industry. A theoretical framework synthesizing the Technology - Organization - Environment framework and the Technology Readiness Index was developed to guide this qualitative study. Seventeen senior managerial representatives from exhibition organizations across nine Western European countries were interviewed, and a reflexive thematic approach was adopted to analyse the data. The findings suggest that the European exhibition industry is a slow adopter of AI, which may impact its future competitiveness, despite the stimulus provided to AI adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic. The degree of confidence in organizational technological practices, financial resources, the size of the organization, and issues of data management and protection, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, motivate or inhibit readiness for AI adoption in the event industry. A new Exhibition Sector Readiness for AI Adoption Model is presented in this research that managers and researchers can use to analyze inhibitors and motivations for AI adoption, which is contextualized for the current challenges facing the exhibitions sector.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), as an emerging technology, is widely discussed by scholars and professionals across industries, including Automotive, Transportation & Logistics, Pharma, Agriculture and Manufacturing (Colins et al., 2021; Davenport, Guha, Grewal, & Bressgott, 2019; PWC, 2020; Towers-Clark, 2019). The event industry has not been excluded from this trend, and trade publications refer to the revolutionizing of event management through AI (CVENT, 2020, Gartner, 2019). These reports identify potential AI applications in events such as chatbots, facial recognition, matchmaking, and service robots, and suggest positive impacts such as better return on investment (ROI), higher efficiency and cost-cutting effects. However, there have been difficulties in implementing AI in the event industry, and the adoption of AI has been relatively slow in event businesses (Davidson, 2019, Ogle and Lamb, 2019).
This exploratory research aimed to explore organizational readiness to adopt AI in the Western European exhibition industry. This research has shown that although the majority of the participants have come across some form of AI in their organization, their understanding of the application of AI is rather limited and reserved, supporting the findings of previous studies which have found that technology adoption is relatively slow in this industry. Exhibition organizations are largely behind in digitalization, and their technological infrastructure is not ready for AI adoption. Although exhibition organizers believe that AI will increase efficiency, reduce costs and enhance customer experience, most organizations do not have a future strategy to implement AI, despite the recent spike in technology adoption in the industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this study, we also revealed that the confidence level of technological practices, financial resources, the size of the organization, and issues of data management and protection, to some extent, motivate or inhibit the readiness of AI adoptions in the organization. This research has shown that COVID-19 could act as an enabler for the adoption of AI technologies in the Western European exhibition sector, as it recovers from the restrictions on gatherings and meetings with an enhanced level of technological readiness and innovativeness.