For One Planner, Innovation Means Thinking Like Attendees

Alice Mathu of IAAPA shares how innovation can include comfort, sustainability and trying the latest technology.

To create innovative and interactive meetings, planners around the nation are raising the bar on productivity and capitalizing on attendee experience. In Orlando, seven planners have exceeded in this realm, setting the bar high for both their peers and the industry. In this series, we’ll learn how these planners are driving change, creating memorable events and inspiring their attendees at each and every meeting.

Meet our sixth “Planner of Productivity”: Alice Mathu, vice president of exhibitions, conferences and sales at IAAPA, the global association for the attractions industry. Mathu has been at IAAPA for 14 years and a vice president for two. In her role, she oversees sales and operations for IAAPA’s three global Expos—IAAPA Expo, IAAPA Expo Euro and IAAPA Expo Asia—and other IAAPA conferences, meetings and events around the world. IAAPA moved its worldwide headquarters to Orlando in spring 2017 to be in the global epicenter of the theme park and attractions industry. IAAPA has committed to hosting its annual conference and trade show, IAAPA Expo, in Orlando through 2030, bringing more than 40,000 attendees to the city each year.

Visit Orlando: How do you define innovation and what are you doing to infuse this into the meetings you plan?

Alice Mathu: Innovation is critical for the survival, economic growth and ongoing success of an event. Innovation leads to new ideas and concepts to help push your event forward. Ideas may include hosting a paperless conference—such as pushing more details to conference apps instead of using printed materials. Innovation could mean thinking like your attendee and adding more charging stations or places to rest in between sessions and time on your tradeshow floor. At IAAAPA we work to embrace new thoughts and ideas from our membership as well as adjust meeting content and the Expo agenda based on their recommendations. We also look at ways we can add touch points with our members throughout the year and not just during Expo. This means adding more meetings and events around the world to help members continue to connect, network and learn from one another throughout the year.

The staff at the Orange County Convention Center and Visit Orlando help in our efforts by

providing excellent support to our show. The convention center is a modern facility that will

undergo some renovations this year, which will only enhance the experience of our trade show.

The accessibility via Orlando International Airport makes it easy for our domestic and

international travelers to get to Orlando, and of course, nothing beats the warm weather in

Orlando in November.

VO: How have such innovative approaches allowed for greater productivity in meetings?

AM: Through innovation, IAAPA has continued to create and host meetings and events that are “must-do” events in the attractions industry. Since we are a member association, we are guided by a volunteer board of directors and member committees, and we work to incorporate their vision with our expertise. This process leads to greater engagement among members. We must also always educate our board and committees so that we can implement new tools and ways of thinking that are impactful to the success of our meetings and conferences.

VO: Taking advantage of smart, flexible meeting space is one of the largest trends this year. How have you utilized this for greater productivity?

AM: We use casual seating for many of our events; this includes sofas, comfortable chairs and other furniture. This is due to a more intense focus on creating a comfortable environment that allows for better connection and collaboration so attendees can have positive memorable experiences.

VO: What advice would you give to peers about keeping up with consumer expectations? How should they not only manage this, but continuously surprise and delight attendees? 

AM: Attendees expect to be inspired, make new connections and learn how to improve their businesses. Any time you can identify and keep up with best practices and changing trends, it provides you the opportunity to implement new things and ideas. We see a lot of creativity from millennials and Gen Z—they are always wanting to push the envelope and try new ideas. They don’t like to hear, “Here’s how it’s always been done.” I also try to attend industry events, and I encourage my colleagues to do the same. I always learn so much from other industry peers and discover what’s new and what other meeting planners and trade show managers experience.

VO: Describe a few of the initiatives you’ve spearheaded—no matter how large or small—to improve the attendee experience. 

AM: We have established a new sustainable initiative as an association, but now in our meetings and events too. For example, in 2019, we had a company sponsor complimentary reusable water bottles for our Expo attendees and exhibitors to help reduce plastic bottle use. This new initiative was well-received and was a nice, branded takeaway for use after the event. We also used technology and storytelling in new ways this year. We introduced a chat bot for attendees to communicate directly from their phone and partnered with a production company, CNTV, to livestream our Kickoff event and Brass Ring Awards ceremony, as well as create feature videos each day of the show that members could watch in their hotel room, through social media and on our website.

VO: When thinking about unique experiences in Orlando, which offsite location do you prefer: Café Tu Tu Tango? Cuba Libre? ICON Park?

Always Café Tu Tu Tango! It has a very cool vibe, and the drinks and food are awesome.

This article has been provided by Visit Orlando.

When it comes to productivity, innovation and unique attendee experience, Orlando usually tops the list. With fantastical backdrops you won’t find anywhere else, only Orlando can offer incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences that your attendees will be talking about for years to come. Tapping into the heritage of creative thinking from its first-rate theme parks, Orlando offers a wide range of creative resources to help your transform your meeting or event. From unique team building activities, exclusive dine-around options to immersive private events inside its world-renowned theme parks complete with a fire-breathing dragon, you are sure to wow your group in Orlando. Discover the many resources available to you to help make your next meeting or event unforgettable at