Attendees seek all that a city has to offer: local restaurants, sporting and cultural events and authentic experiences to enjoy with peers.
A meeting’s primary objective is to provide attendees with a remarkable experience—one that makes it worth the trip both in educational content and networking opportunities and that, ultimately, encourages attendees to return for the next meeting.
The meeting planner’s most important tool in creating such experiences is the destination itself. The meeting destination is one of the top factors people use to decide whether to attend a meeting in the first place, according to the Experience Institute’s Decision to Attend study.
“Educational content is focus for any meeting, but ultimately attendees really want to experience things they really can’t get anywhere else” says J.J. Wills, senior vice president of marketing programs and business development for ConferenceDirect, a meeting solutions company based in California.
For its own biannual CDX conference last fall, ConferenceDirect selected Cleveland, Ohio because of its up-and-coming reputation. CDX held an education session for its select 150 attendees in the auditorium at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the conclusion of the session, attendees were treated to a networking reception in the museum.
“It can be intimidating to strike up conversations with new people,” Wills says. “But at the Hall of Fame, attendees interacted naturally, breaking the ice by talking about their favorite artists or the first time they saw someone in concert. It beat exchanging cards in a lovely, but generic, hotel ballroom.”
Meeting attendees often have packed education schedules, so meeting planners must think creatively about how to connect them to the destination. For CDX, attendees used the meeting mobile app to participate in a city scavenger hunt, taking them to different parts of the city to snap photos. An attendee favorite was the world’s largest outdoor chandelier in Cleveland’s historic Playhouse Square.
CDX attendees also had the option of three tours that took advantage of the city’s unique features: a tour of the city’s Museum of Art and Severance Hall, home of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra; a tour of iconic breweries, Great Lakes Brewing Company, Market Garden Brewery with a reception at Nano Brewery; or a boat cruise on Lake Erie.
“These excursions are fun and relaxing, but they also provide more opportunities for building relationships,” Wills says. “Some of the most important education you’ll get a meeting comes from the people you meet.”
At the conclusion of a meeting, nearly 90 percent report they are likely to return and to recommend the meeting to colleagues if they enjoyed their experience.
“If you authentically connect attendees to the destination, they trust you to provide them with one-of-a-kind experiences in the future,” Wills says. “They get excited for your next event.”