Imagine this: a meeting attendee is sitting in an airport on their way home and someone asks, “How was your time in X city?” and the attendee responds, “I could have been in any city and it wouldn’t have mattered.” They are stuck in the Airport-Taxi-Hotel-Taxi-Airport (ATHTA) rut and are never able to get a taste of the destination. Not exactly the experience planners are hoping for, especially when a meeting’s success is tied to attendees desire to return for next year’s meeting.
More and more we are learning that meeting attendees are looking for experiential ways to connect and have grown tired of generic offerings. For example, the American Culinary Traveler Study (2013) from the World Food Travel Association, stated that more than half of the respondents reported they travel to learn about or enjoy unique culinary options in the destination. Additionally, more than 60% stated they are interested in taking a trip to engage in food and beverage activities within the coming year.
Planners have gone to great lengths to research and site a destination for their meeting. That is why continuing to infuse the flavor of the destination throughout the meeting is so important. By infusing the flavor of the destination, an attendee is able to experience unforgettable insider experiences as well as gain professional knowledge. And thus, planners will drive attendance, provide a positive meeting experience, and ensure attendee interest for the next meeting.
Meeting Experiences Drive Attendance
People are no longer interested in attending just a meeting; they are looking for a meeting experience. A meeting experience where all five senses are engaged and attendees leave not only gaining professional insight, but a feeling their time was well spent and they created lasting memories.
Promoting food and drink when marketing a destination to attendees can really pay off. The World Food Travel Association report states a robust dining scene adds to a destination’s allure and can drive attendance. When promoting a meeting, planners can take advantage of attendees built in desire for dining experiences by highlighting some of the unique culinary options in the destination as well as throughout the meeting program.
Even if a meeting is held in only one location, it doesn’t have to restrict their experience. There are many ways a planner can infuse local flavor during the course of the meeting to give attendees a real taste of the destination and thus create a positive meeting experience.
10 Ways to Infuse the Local Flavor of a Destination
- Arts & Culture
We know attendees are looking for authentic cultural experiences and taking advantage of a destination’s arts and cultural offerings will help to reveal and enhance the underlying identity of the destination. Museums are a reflection of their community and what makes them unique. Try hosting a portion of your event in a local museum’s lobby or exhibit area. Museums are happy to rent out part or all of their space for meetings and conferences and attendees will be thrilled to see a little of the local culture.
2. Food & Beverage
Infusing the local flavor with unique food and drink provides attendees a taste of the destination and will help to create an overall memorable experience for attendees. Each destination is unique in not only location but in the tastes and flavors it offers. Chefs located in hotels and other meeting venues are adept at utilizing locally grown fare to capture the flavor of the destination, meeting attendees can find local flavor in everything from banquet dishes to unique craft cocktails.
Additionally, certain destinations are known for their specific fares. In Texas, beef and steak houses are a big draw. Charlie Spiegel, Director of Sales & Services at the Frisco Convention & Visitors Bureau enjoys “working with planners to give attendees a taste of Texas’s famous steakhouses. From small groups to large, attendees can leave Texas and the Frisco area with a taste of our famous steaks.”
- 3. People Who Have Settled in the Area
Infusing a meeting with the destination’s flavor doesn’t have to be limited to the farm-to-fork movement. Many local flavors also come from the people who have settled in the area. For example, Minneapolis, where its historical roots can be traced to the city’s Scandinavian roots, has been moving toward a “New Nordic” culinary experience.
In Providence, Rhode Island where clam shacks are popular, some may not know there is also a strong Dominican population that has migrated there, infusing the flavors and culture of Latin America throughout the area.
4. Utilizing Local Vendors:
Planners looking for goodie bags or small party favors can infuse local flavor by utilizing local vendors. Not only will they be supporting local businesses, but attendees will also be able to get a sample of something popular in the destination. For example, in Palm Springs sales professionals at the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors bureau have recommended toffee made by local kids that can be branded for an organization and given to attendees.
5. Community Project/Corporate Social Responsibility:
A unique way to infuse the flavor of a destination is to offer a community project as part of the overall meeting program. Planners can look for projects unique to the destination as well as one that connects with the organization’s overall mission.
For example, planners holding a meeting in Hawaii can work with programs that will not only allow attendees to volunteer in idyllic tropical settings, but will also make Hawaii a better place for all. Attendees leave Hawaii with a positive meeting experience as well as helping to improve the environment for those who come in the future.
6. Spousal Programs/Off-Site Excursions:
Planners have been hearing this for years: attendees and their spouses are looking for more authentic experiences and moving away from generic programs. Attendees want to experience the flavor of the destination through all of the senses. Every destination has arts and cultural offerings that are unique to the destination. One trend that is sure to excite attendees and spouses is having a local docent guide them through private tours, such as walking tours, behind-the-scenes museum tours, and even ghost tours.
In Palm Springs for example, meeting attendees have a host of options embodying the destination’s flavor. Looking for a little old Hollywood? Planners can have a Rat Pack themed off-site excursion at Marilyn Monroe’s hideaway where she and Joe DiMaggio once lived. If planners are looking for something a little more modern, Rob Osterberg recommends “heading downtown to experience the new Palm Springs in one of its many hip and vibrant downtown venues.”
7. Music/Local Events:
Infusing the flavor of a destination doesn’t have to be limited to just one of the senses. Many destinations are known for their unique sights and sounds as well. We know Nashville is known for its Country Music and New Orleans is known for its Jazz. But each destination has its own unique music and events. Planners can journey to off-site events or hold meetings at a venue offering music unique to the destination.
And events don’t have to be limited to just music. For example, Frisco, Texas is popularly known as a great place to see local and regional sports. From minor league baseball and professional soccer to professional hockey practice sessions, there is a sporting event attendees can go to virtually year round. By giving attendees a sense of what makes the destination unique, they are able to fully appreciate why the planner chose that destination to start.
8. Get Active:
There is also a perception meetings always have to be inside. The reality is, where appropriate, taking part of the meeting outside is a great way to create a positive meeting experience. Rob Osterberg recommends “having breakout sessions outside and presenting meeting content in an unconventional way helps to create a lasting impression on attendees.” At the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau for example, their sales professionals work with planners to create outside break-out sessions. Meeting content is presented in smaller outside stations where, at each station, there is also culinary options infused with the local Palm Springs flavors. Meeting attendees are able to take advantage of the beautiful outdoor weather, taste local flavors of the destination all while being presented with meeting content in a unique and memorable way.
Tapping prominent local speakers is a great way to enrich the attendees overall meeting experience. By tapping into local experts or motivational speakers that align with the organization’s overall mission, attendees will gain professional insight as well as what makes the city unique. Charlie Spiegal at the Frisco CVB, recommends “by working with the CVB’s sales professional, planners will be able to find local and regional speakers in Texas that can talk to attendees about their expertise as well as their love for the destination.”
Another option for planners is to have local docents or city-guides come and talk to perhaps smaller groups to share insider tips and things to do in and around the destination.
Agritourism is the growing trend of travelers heading out to farms, ranches or farmer’s markets for a real taste of the city and the unique foods grown in the region. There are a growing number of planners taking advantage of this trend by having an off-site excursion or event at a local farm or ranch. Attendees are able to visit a working farm where they can taste locally grown fare, go on hay rides, work their way through corn mazes or pick fruit right from the vine.
If getting out to the country isn’t an option, Farmer’s Markets are a perfect option for attendees to support local vendors and sample locally grown food. The great thing about Farmer’s Markets is that in many cities, they are held year-round and in convenient locations. In San Diego for example, there are over 25 year-round farmers markets throughout the County, and several within the downtown area.
CVB’s Help Create Memorable Meeting Experiences
A lot of information planners need can be found on the Internet, yet only the most popular tourist driven options will come up when you do a generic search. A planner has to know what they are looking for before they can search for it. How do you find out about and most importantly get access to the resources you need to infuse your meeting with the destination flavor? The local Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) sales professional is your ultimate destination guide.
As local experts, the CVB will help you not only find out how to infuse the destination’s flavor into your meeting, they will also help you gain access you might not normally get. The CVB has in-depth knowledge of their destination and what makes it unique. Therefore, when siting your destination(s), involving the CVB from the very beginning will ensure your meeting is infused with the destination’s flavor and character and ultimately contribute to its success.
No organization has stronger connections and better destination knowledge than the CVB. It is the CVB’s mission to help you find not only the right fit for your meeting, but to help create the best meeting experience for attendees. To reach out to CVB experts at more than 135 top meeting destinations, visit empowerMINT.com.