Northstar Meetings Group and Visit Myrtle Beach published a guide about Best Practices for Creating Travel Experiences with Lasting Impact. According to the report, “meeting planners who focus on experiential events will reap big benefits: Experiential meetings help build lasting bonds, boost attendee engagement, inspire loyalty, and leave a powerful lasting impression.” The Incentive Research Foundation agrees with this stating that “42% of program owners are increasing the number of “experiential rewards” in their portfolio (e.g. spa days, concert tickets, expensive dinners, sporting events, etc.). The focus for travel is now not only on the destination and venue, but equally important are the authentic, unique, individualized experiences delivered throughout the agenda. This has led to the productizing of mini-experiences: from various types of tastings to personalized training sessions to behind-the-scenes introductions to chefs.”

Here is a condensed version of the planning checklist provided by the guide mentioned above, as well as examples of how Creative Group creates experiential events using these best practices.

1. Select a destination that offers unique and meaningful experiences

As a teambuilding component of a meeting, the highlight of an event, or part of the magic of an incentive travel program, people love local. Use the charm of your locale to tell a story with food, merchandise and activities. You can ask a local figure from your industry to craft a message to your group or develop a learning journey related to the history of the destination. With one group, we created an authentic desert adventure outside of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Participants caravanned through the desert in enclosed off-road vehicles and enjoyed themed pop-up stops along the way. First a thirst-quenching smoothie stand and then a history stop; where a naturalist guide spoke about the local flora and fauna and how/why people settled in Cabo. The final stop was the crown jewel of the day. The caravan ended at a beautiful beach that seemed to appear out-of-nowhere. A surprise brunch was waiting in a lovely white tent at the edge of the water. The group enjoyed champagne and an elegant brunch before taking a coach bus back into town.

Furthermore, you can leverage your creative work to help people visualize themselves in the destination, either with tangible marketing communication or virtual/augmented reality. As virtual reality becomes more mainstream, gadgets like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR will assist in visualization by giving users the immersive feeling of being in the destination and its surroundings with a 360-degree video.

2. Build time into the agenda for attendees to experience the area’s history and culture

Creative Group designed a group incentive travel program that helped create brand ambassadors for a major beverage retailer. The experience included the entire journey of making coffee, from plant-to-cup, and the daily activities embraced the local history and culture of Costa Rica. The agenda included:

  • A Coffee Picking Contest which helped participants understand the importance of competent pickers who get the best and most cherries (fruit of the coffee plant)
  • Coffee Planting which allowed participants to leave their footprint on the land for years to come
  • Painting a local school and playground fence, a CSR activity further immersing partners in the local culture and community and underlining the client’s desire to be a force for positive action

3. Let meeting-goers mingle with the locals

Moving beyond just mingling, Creative Group set up a dozen local Irish families to host incentive travel guests in their homes for dinner. As MeetingsNet reported, “some trickled back, but others moved on from the homes to the local pub. “It was the highlight of the trip,” [Account Executive Brian] Kelley says. “People are still in touch.” Some of the Irish families have visited the U.S. Some kids of the U.S. families who traveled to Ireland stopped in Killarney to visit the families. “These incredible relationships were built in just one night,” Kelley says. “I would do it again, anywhere in the world.”

4. Maximize learning by making meetings interactive

Our blog, 5 Ways Meetings Should be More Like Dinner Parties, discusses ways to make meetings more interactive through different formats. Interesting speakers and topics is one reason people attend meetings. But they don’t come to just listen. Meeting participants want to do just that – participate. They want to be able to take what they heard from speakers and peers and apply it to their work and life. Next gen meeting spaces are taking advantage of best practices such as zoning, flexibility, technology, and multi-functionality to encourage interactivity and collaboration.

  • Zoning: Open spaces for collaboration and niche spaces for private conversations
  • Flexibility: Dynamic environments and flexible furniture 
  • Digital technology: Display functionality such as social walls increase participation 
  • Multi-functionality: Designed to fit the needs of the user/participant, no matter how diverse 

5. Allow attendees time to reflect on what they’ve learned

One of the biggest challenges for meeting owners is optimizing meeting content. With so much to say and so little time, it’s hard not to over-schedule every second of a precious face-to-face opportunity. Dynamic agendas, carefully planned, with only 15 minute breaks and 30 minute lunches will have attendees checked out before the day even begins. Despite post-meeting surveys that beg for more leisure time, important content usually wins out. In reality, the content is NOT winning if the information is not retained or received with enthusiasm.

This is where reflection time (and technology) can really contribute to the overall success of a meeting. Information can easily be found and sent on the internet, so preparing your meeting participants before they even arrive will make your time together more valuable. Self-reflection and conversation among peers can help them move from merely absorbing information to applying critical thinking skills and forming actionable insights.

As we move on from formal education into careers, it seems as though we forget to apply best practices from our learning environments that served us so well. As meeting owners, facilitators, and planners, it is our job to reinforce learning by directing participants to reflect on their personal take-aways before the experience has escaped them. It’s important to emphasize the importance of mindfulness especially when we know new stimuli impact us every 8 seconds. Read our blog to learn more about how to detox the meeting brain.

6. Encourage attendees to share their experiences and photos via social media

Depending on the purpose of your meeting/event, it may be appropriate to encouraging social sharing. This can help create brand ambassadors and increase the exposure of your event. If sharing meeting content publicly doesn’t fall in line with your event guidelines, consider using a mobile event app. Participants will be able to share comments and photos with only those associated with the event. It’s a great way to elevate the experience, without compromising privacy. Live streaming is another increasingly popular way to share content online. Follow this guide to see if you should live stream your event: Is Live Streaming Right for My Event?

There are so many components that go into making impactful and engaging participant experiences, but with a little bit of strategy and a healthy dose of creativity, you can “wow” your guests every time. Learn more about creating experiences by downloading our free white paper Creating the Ultimate Experience below.