For Meetings That Speak to Your Audience Adopt a Local Accent, Engage Your DMO
By Martha Sheridan President & CEO, Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau | September 21, 2014
The movie "Up in the Air" cast the Hollywood spotlight on the perceived drudgery of business travel. For two hours, the audience watches George Clooney hustle through a faceless airport en route to an equally bland hotel. Happily, this kind of dull corporate travel is becoming much less of the norm, particularly in the meetings and conventions market.
Over the past decade, meetings have evolved to incorporate a wide variety of experiences for the attendee. From new technologies that allow for deeper engagement and more meaningful learning, to unique and interesting venues, to room set-ups for enhanced connections and dialogue, today's meeting attendee expects the total experience will be a transformative one. While many hotels have risen to this challenge by designing distinctive spaces that reflect their locale and adapting their menus to include local fare, attendees still want to go outside the walls of the property to get the true essence of the meeting destination.
So what exactly is a "local" or "authentic" experience? It can be anything that connects the visitor to the destination in a unique and memorable way. According to the Destination Marketing Association International's Empowermint.com there are five experiences driving meeting attendance: Speakers, Food and Beverage, Arts and Culture, Community Projects, and Activities.
Savvy planners are incorporating these indigenous destination offerings into their meetings packages. Among the products that Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) have developed are: walking tours of historic areas; culinary demonstrations at a local restaurants; or educational tours of a local facility that relates to a topic the group is covering at their meeting.
In Providence, one of our quintessential local experiences is participation in an event called WaterFire. This multisensory art installation, which occurs multiple times throughout the year, is unique to our destination and features 100 bonfires along Providence's central rivers accompanied by inspirational music and other complementary performances. Thousands of meeting attendees have attended this extraordinary event as a spectator, and hundreds more have had an in-depth encounter by volunteering as a torch bearer, guest lighter, or fire tender. I am confident that this event enriches a visit to Providence and enhances a participant's experience.
Though the payoff can be great, the fact remains that incorporating authentic, local experiences into a meeting program can be a challenge for the meeting planner and their hotel partner. It can take a significant amount of time, research, and coordination to ensure that the experience is engaging, memorable, and an appropriate reflection of the area. And while a hotel salesperson's first instinct might be to keep all of the aspects of the meeting under their roof to maximize revenue for their property, the benefits of providing your client with options for unique off property activities will pay off in the form of increased attendance, potentially longer stays and perhaps even repeat customers.
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