Christine Shimasaki, CDME, CMP, is the managing director of empowerMINT.com and the Event Impact Calculator for Destination Marketing Association International. She previously served as executive vice president and chief strategy officer for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, as well as a distinguished career in sales with Marriott.
Imagine this: a corporate attendee is sitting in an airport on their way home and someone asks, “How was your time in (blank) city?” and the attendee responds, “I could have been in any city, and it wouldn’t have mattered. They are all the same.” They are stuck in the airport-taxi-hotel-taxi-airport rut and are never able to get an authentic taste of the destination. Not exactly the experience a meeting professional aspires to — especially when the meeting’s success is tied to the attendees’ desire to return for next year’s meeting.
People are no longer interested in attending just a meeting; they are looking for a complete and total meeting experience: A meeting experience where all five senses are engaged and attendees leave not only gaining professional insight, but feeling that their time was well spent and filled with lasting memories.
“People are no longer interested in attending just a meeting; they are looking for a complete and total meeting experience.”
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.
Arts and 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.
Food and beverage.
Infusing the local flavor with unique food and beverages 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.
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, in Minneapolis, the city’s historical roots can be traced to its Scandinavian roots, and the city has been moving toward a “New Nordic” culinary experience
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 also will be able to get a sample of something popular in the destination.
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.
Spousal programs/offsite 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.
Music and 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. For instance, Nashville is known for its country music, and New Orleans is known for its jazz. However, each destination has its own unique music and events. Planners can journey to offsite events or hold meetings at a venue offering music unique to the destination.
There also is a perception that meetings have to be inside. Try holding breakout sessions outside and present meeting content in an unconventional way, which will really help to create a lasting impression on attendees. Meeting attendees are thus 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 overall meeting experience for attendees. By tapping into local experts or motivational speakers who present programs in alignment with the organization’s overall mission, attendees will gain professional insight and will learn what makes the city unique. Another option for planners is to have local docents or guides come and talk to 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 offsite 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 directly from the vine.
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, more importantly, get access to the resources you need to infuse your meeting with the destination flavor? The local convention and visitors bureau (CVB) sales professional is your ultimate destination guide.
As local experts, the CVB not only will help you find out how to infuse the destination’s flavor into your meeting, they also will help you gain access that you may not normally get. The CVB has in-depth knowledge of their destination and knows 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, which will ultimately contribute to its success.
No organization has stronger connections and better destination knowledge than the convention and visitors bureau. 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 www.empowerMINT.com. C&IT