There are only so many destinations that can accommodate certain kinds of meetings, events, and incentive programs. This reality means companies need to cycle back to previously used destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando every few years, if not every year.
How do you keep the experience fresh and unique for attendees and avoid the been-there, done-that malaise? I’ll admit it takes some work but as a destination management company professional who deals with this every day, let me share some strategies that guide our creative teams’ and can help you when it comes to reinventing a destination.
Get up to Speed
It is important to start any planning/development phase with an understanding of what has changed since your attendees were there last. What new event venues have opened up? New restaurants and hotels? New activities, tours, excursions? New ways groups can use the ballpark? New toll roads or highway modifications that impact transfer times? Often, a byproduct of this phase is the revelation of something new and inspiring enough to jumpstart the development of your creative, new destination packaging.
Do Your Research
The next step is all about the spin. In past visits, your attendees probably experienced the must-see, must-do meeting or incentive program elements. Repeating some of those is not a bad thing (some attendees will be first timers) as long as they’re part of a well-constructed package of program elements in your overarching “event story,” that includes fresh, unique twists.
Developing a creative angle from which your spin will evolve requires some research. (Not to be too sales-y, but this is where a DMC partner can be invaluable). Start by digging into the destination itself.
- Investigate the destination’s history. Often there are surprisingly cool aspects of a city’s past that can make for an inspiring thematic twist.
- Is there a hot, new celebrity from that destination—perhaps a reality TV star, a celebrity chef, or a high-profile athlete?
- What foods, beverages, or other goods are produced locally?
• What is the state’s official bird, flower, or nickname?
Next, look at current and world events for inspiration. Will there be a summer or winter Olympic Games around the time of your program? A major sporting championship? An entertainment awards ceremony?
Finally, look at your organization’s company-wide business objectives, the business content/messaging of the program you’re planning, your current brand messaging, and any new product launches or service offerings that can be leveraged.
Your program’s spin might apply solely to the elements you feel need to be redressed (e.g. activities, tours, and excursions that your people may have done in years past), while the rest of your program is designed around your brand and your business content. Alternatively, you might opt to encompass your entire program in your creative spin and have each program element underpin your overarching event story.
Let’s assume that your company is focused on a corporate-wide “Innovation through Inspiration” initiative and has a conference in Las Vegas. You can put a fun twist on your tours and activities while making each one part of a larger team-building competition tied to the theme. For example, the classic Hoover Dam tour allows participants to learn the astounding story of how construction of the dam was originally deemed physically impossible by top engineers. However, when the dam was completed in 1936 (two years ahead of schedule), it was hailed as an innovative engineering marvel. At the oh-so-cool Las Vegas Mob Museum, the spotlight is on Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. Siegel was known as a violent, dapper gangster, but he also had an innovative vision to develop the Las Vegas desert into a casino capital at a time when it was little more than a sleepy desert town.
Your Hoover Dam and Mob Museum tour participants could comprise competing teams, with tasks to complete before, during, and/or after their outing tied to the “Innovation through Inspiration” theme. The tasks could be anything from answering trivia questions in the event app, to participating in a scavenger hunt, to producing and presenting a TV ad or investor pitch relevant to their tour.
The North Star
Developing the spin that will make your attendees’ experience unique and fresh requires not only research and creative conceptualization, but, when possible, a guiding “North Star” in terms of stakeholders’ goals.
- What kind of vibe, energy, and aesthetic are they envisioning?
- What kind of words and emotions would they like their attendees to be using and feeling once the program has ended?
Gather as many descriptive adjectives from stakeholders as you can, and refer to these goals over and over as you design your program’s overarching event story. They will drive not only the unique twists you put on your attendees’ experiences in a repeat destination, but it will guide you into a rewarding and successful program execution that with impress stakeholders with its relevancy, timeliness, and fresh feel.
Lisa Paul is the head of marketing and manager of global accounts for Kuoni Destination Management. She serves on the 2017 Board of Directors for WINiT, a 2,800-member nonprofit organization founded in 2014 to support and empower women in the meeting, event, travel, and exhibition industries. Find out more.