By Elaine Pofeldt

When a small organization reached out to Destination Irvine (Calif.) for help in planning a 40-person meeting, it had one challenge: a limited budget. Given Irvine’s beautiful outdoor settings and the group’s desire to make the experience memorable as it transitioned in a new board, AnaLaura Becerra, CMP, CTA (MPI Orange County Chapter), director of corporate sales at Destination Irvine, suggested a hike on the trails near the hotel.

“Rejection—immediately,” Becerra recalls. The group worried it would be too hot or the trails would be too long for those who didn’t exercise regularly. Becerra soon came up with a way around that: electric bikes.

When the event day arrived, the attendees broke up into eight groups on their electric bikes and met at pre-designated spots along the route to discuss agenda topics, then adjourned to the hotel for lunch.

“It offered a lot of one-on-one time with the people they needed to talk to,” says Becerra, noting the group ended up being very happy with the event.

Like many in the meeting industry, Becerra is experiencing a key trend in this quarter’s Meetings Outlook survey: the growing desire to provide unique attendee experiences.

In an increasingly on-demand world, 78 percent of respondents to the survey said the call for unique attendee experiences is rising and 37 percent said this requirement is increasing substantially, even though only 51 percent of respondents say budgets will increase as well.

Against this backdrop, Michel Wohlmuth, owner of Creatividad and president of the MPI Mexico Chapter, looks to create a transformative experience. In March, he was involved in planning a 250-person event for an insurance company that held a conference at a local resort. During the event, attendees watched a video about a school in a small, impoverished village about an hour from the resort. At the end, the video surprised everyone with the message, “Tomorrow, you are going to visit the school and get to know the children.”

For the attendees, actually meeting the youngsters first hand made the event unforgettable. “It was a very sensitive and emotional experience,” Wohlmuth says.

The call for unique experiences often affects planners’ suggestions for venues. Among survey respondents, 62 percent said the need for unique attendee experiences affects their venue-selection decisions.

Ask Annette Belding, CMP (MPI Minnesota Chapter), events and membership manager of the 194 West Chamber in Minneapolis. In planning a May fundraising event for fallen fire fighters and police with a local nonprofit organization, she opted to hold the gathering at Clam Corporation, a nationally known manufacturer of ice houses, in the company’s warehouse.

“It is a unique space,” says Belding as she worked on preparations. The organizers planned to bring in a stage and sound system, and Heidi’s GrowHaus, a local garden center, will be decorating the space. Attendees will be able to have the experience of driving a fire truck in the giant parking lot. “It will be a full experience.”

This is not unusual.

“We hold various events in our community,” she says. “Because our community doesn’t have a large convention area, a lot of times we hold them in unique spaces. It could be that we’re holding them in a rec center or someone’s back yard.”

Becerra, too, is looking to unusual spaces to bring variety to the events she’s involved in planning. When a sports organization asked for help with a 500-person reception in two weeks—on a very limited budget—Becerra suggested holding the event in the ballroom of a local barn that was usually used for weddings. The group was reluctant to try it, but a site visit changed the leadership team’s minds.

The event, held in March, was a hit, with many attendees loving the novel location.

“The comment, in general, was, ‘It’s about time,’” Becerra recalls. She also heard, “I had no idea this existed” and “Kudos to whoever picked this place.”

“My client was on cloud nine,” she says.

In the full spring 2019 Meetings Outlook report, read more about the increasing demand for crafting unique attendee experiences and how meeting pros are dealing with that, as well as insights into other key trends and business projections across the industry. 

Meetings Outlook is developed in partnership with MGM Resorts. Meetings Outlook is supported in partnership with IMEX Group.

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