Meet Outside the Box: Bringing the Destination to Attendees
Attendees may lack time to fully experience the meeting destination, but thoughtful curation of the city’s best offerings can be the solution.
Event planners are turning to unique venues—such as art galleries, local factories or parks—to provide attendees with experiences they cannot have in another location. Despite that trend, the fact is that half of all meetings will still take place in hotels and convention centers, a report from Eventbrite shows.
Conventional meeting spaces generally don’t offer anything unique to the destination for attendees. For meetings that will mostly take place in conventional venues, bringing the destination to the attendees might be an excellent way to give them what they seek—connection to the destination and opportunities to experience all the things that make the destination special.
When attendees travel to a meeting or conference, they’re seeking a memorable experience as part of of their trip. In fact, event planners report that “experience creation” will become a larger part of their responsibilities in the near future, according to the IACC, a professional meeting industry group. Those experiences are increasingly tied to the specific destination and its offerings, according to findings from The Experience Institute. The destination itself is often the determining factor in whether or not attendees decide to travel for a meeting.
Austin House is a case study in creating a relaxed, but experience rich area featuring storied local businesses, food and artists together in one place for attendees to easily visit as part of their professional development and networking. The “house” was a collection of pop-up shops selected to appeal to the attendees of the Professional Convention Management Association’s annual Convening Leaders conference in Austin, Texas in January 2017. It provided comfortable spaces for networking and relaxing between sessions, along with local food vendors and artists.
“When you’re in town for business, you may not have the time to explore the city the way you’d like to,” says Tiffany Kerr, director of marketing for Visit Austin, the marketing arm for the city. “We wanted to bring parts of the city to the meeting to make the destination shareable—whether by social media or by taking a piece of the destination back home.”
The Visit Austin team conceived of the idea as a way to bring the “best of” the city to the meeting attendees. It featured pop-up shops from Kendra Scott, a billion-dollar jewelry and lifestyle brand founded in the city, to Tanked, a local shirt and bandana maker. There were also items you’d expect in to find at a Texas event, including cowboy boots and a closing night performance by Willie Nelson. There’s value in providing memorable leisure activities and experiences like these for attendees, according to the 2019 Global Meetings and Events Forecast from American Express—attendees who have good experiences, have a positive mindset and are better able to consume the content or knowledge share of the event.
“We wanted to bring together pieces that attendees would find special,” Kerr said. “It comes down to partnership and collaboration. The meeting planner is the expert on the meeting content and the meeting audience. Your local partner is the expert on their destination and what vendors and products will best serve the overall attendee experience.”