Why Offbeat Experiences are On-Trend for Meeting Planners

Planners are using their host city's unique attributes to provide attendees with that signature, unforgettable experience they now crave.

Conference attendees want more than clever tchotchkes and high-quality event swag these days, and meeting planners know it. And they are no longer content with just the standard education and networking sessions that go off without a hitch at the conference center (though they do still want all of that).

But in addition, they want a unique—and often Instagrammable—experience to take home with them, preferably showcasing a bit of the host city’s flair. It could be an experience the planner provides through the conference or one they find in their free time.

The stories your attendees are able to tell become what they’ll remember about the conference—and what will get them back the next year, and maybe bring their friends.

In the Successful Meetings’ 2016 Trends Survey, almost two-thirds of meeting planners said creating “a compelling meeting experience” for attendees was one of the top trends for the year. This trend has shown no signs of changing in 2017.

“People don’t meet in the corridor or over the water cooler anymore, so an important part of bringing people together is to build relationships and bond,” said Mark Cooper, CEO of the International Association of Conference Centers, in a January 2016 article in Successful Meetings. “To do that [planners] need to find ways to create a meeting experience, such as teambuilding or experiential learning.”

Finding an Experience in Ottawa

Meeting planners are doing their homework on how to provide that unforgettable experience, and host cities that can help make it happen are in greater demand.

The Canadian capital of Ottawa offers Signature Experiences, a program that aims to help meeting planners provide attendees with unique experiences in the city to go along with their professional development and networking. One popular excursion is the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum. The four-story underground bunker was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s to house key members of government and the military in the event of a nuclear war.

“Now it’s a museum where people can learn more about the Cold War in an amazing venue,” said Jantine Van Kregten, director of communications with Ottawa Tourism. “When you are there, you are living that history.”

Ottawa is also home to the North American headquarters of Le Cordon Bleu. Visitors can learn traditional French culinary techniques, but with local and regional ingredients like elk, wild salmon, and maple syrup. “You can have a taste of France while having a quintessential Canadian experience,” Van Kregten said.

In addition, the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site next to Shaw Centre, the city’s downtown conference center, offers canoe and kayak rentals in summer, and in winter is transformed into the world’s largest ice skating rink, at 4.8 miles long.

Ottawa also offers a range of offsite venues for conference receptions and events, including an agriculture and food museum, a yacht club, and a casino, among others.

“We’ve had groups hold receptions on the grounds of national museums, aboard cruises on the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River—and as part of outdoor seasonal festivals,” said Sylvie Theriault-du Toit, a project manager for Ottawa Tourism.

Providing offbeat experiences that provide the element of surprise is an effective way to capture attendees’ attention and spur them to broadcast their activity to their preferred social media channels. Ottawa provides many options for that perfect Instagram post.

For more information about planning your next amazing conference, visit

(Ottawa Tourism)