As a destination management company (DMC) we are always wondering what we can bring to our clients that they haven’t seen yet. The 2019 trends reflect what is going on in events at large, more personalization and a greater focus on creating a memorable attendee experience. While this means something different in every area of events, for DMCs it’s a calling to provide something extraordinary or difficult for the planners to do themselves, more value for less effort on their end.
Humanizing the Destination
In the past, attendees would fly in, attend the event, and then off they went with minimal interaction with the destination. Today, that is changing. Planners are breaking out of typical event spaces and instead opting for non-traditional venues and locations. There is an opportunity to take it a step further by taking the normal, everyday business event and softening it in order to create a more authentic connection between attendees and the event. People are looking for local or cultural events to attend, mixing business with pleasure; bringing guests with them so they can enjoy a little mini vacation on the heels of their event; and insisting on other ways to enjoy themselves. Serve up the host city in spades: Create culinary adventures, side tours, and sessions involving culture experts. Offer an opportunity for the group to volunteer for a local organization as part of a service project. Charitable activities can have a profound effect on attendees and make them feel a bigger part of the destination city. Bring a surprise element to your event, as a useful tactic to make an otherwise standard business meeting a memorable and positive experience for the group.
It is worth breaking the mold of traditional destination management by merging it with realness in order to create a connection that otherwise would be missed. Groups are more and more leaving the traditional meeting style in the past. They are moving towards adding unique and unforgettable components; or in some cases, removing anything that feels stiff. Powerpoint presentations are running on empty, and blank notepads laid throughout a classroom style ballroom are disappearing. Moving into their place are live visual notes done by an artist in the room. This focus on authenticity and connection will only continue to grow in the DMC industry as business becomes more approachable and less rigid.
Creating Childlike Wonder and Nostalgia
Nostalgia is always a way to make an impression. It helps people harken back to simpler times and conjures up happy memories. When a destination management company evokes those types of pleasant feelings, those emotions get transferred to the event itself. That’s why so many DMCs are getting into the game. Literally. Add childlike wonder to your events: Try doing things like incorporating games, challenges, or childhood competitions most everyone can play, like kickball. Use giant Jenga as a networking icebreaker, for example. Host your event at a venue that caters to children, like an amusement park or rent a bounce house (just make sure you run that by your risk person).
Giveaways like cube puzzles and stuffed flying monkeys can bring out the childlike wonder in your guests.
Getting to know a destination does not have to be forced for clients or guests. Whether they are visiting for a conference or an incentive trip, guests are eager to learn about the city around them. A powerful and subtle way to get the destination’s message across is by funneling details of the destination into familiar activities for the guests and this will have a positive output in terms of networking and team building too. Providing custom, familiar experiences is a must for the DMC industry moving forward, and these types of activations will only continue to increase in popularity. Use gamification to entice participation and to dive into the city surrounding them. Technology solutions are an easy and fun way to monitor and manage activities fairly. Offer a creative tour of the city and allow guests to step foot in destination landmarks. For example, a scavenger hunt across the city combines team building, familiarity, and education all in one. This kind of tour takes guests to the more vibrant areas of the destination and encourages them to hunt for the listed items independently, giving the guests the power to make the tour their own as well as providing a first-hand experience of the destination.
A citywide scavenger hunt is good for the right group - but what if your group appreciates taking things slowly and savoring the moment? Slow down the pace and take the group on a “dine around” to experience the city through eats and drinks. Upon sitting down at the first stop, the guests can be greeted with a custom cocktail and then challenged to note the ingredients by choosing from an expansive list. This type of challenge gets guests into a lively spirit and ready to take on the destination.
NO to Boring Ballrooms
As destination managers, we take pride in showing our city off through group events. There is nothing quite like the wonder in a guests’ eyes as they experience your destination for the first time. But what happens when the majority of their time is not spent experiencing the city first hand; rather their time is spent within a hotel for a conference? It is then the planner’s responsibility to pull the destination within the selected venue. Bring the outside in:
- While this has been done in ways since the beginning of the destination management industry, we are seeing an expansive boom in the actual recreation of the destination within venues. A popular example of this is seen when planners recreate the various boroughs or neighborhoods of their destination on a microscopic level within the venue. Recreate the distinct neighborhoods within your event space and give the attendees a real opportunity to experience the destination in the limited time that they are in town. - One of the ways planners have succeeded in this recreation effort is by using emerging technologies to set the ambiance and tone immediately upon guest arrival. Video mapping the walls of a venue, for example, can open up an array of possibilities that were not possible just a couple years ago as costs have since come down. Capturing footage of your destination and mapping the walls with it allows for an all-encompassing experience within a venue. It also does not hurt that it is such a wow factor! - Sourcing local vendors and local foods is a great way to educate guests about your destination. The authenticity that pours out of local eats, drinks, and décor is something that is guaranteed to resonate with your guests, especially if it is a part of a recreation of the city.
The theme of customization continues on with the boom of custom crafted activations that match the destination. The DMC industry has realized the importance of ensuring that guests feel they are experiencing something that has never been done before, especially considering they likely attend multiple events across the country, or even the world, every year. With that in mind, DMCs and their partners are working in totality to build pieces from scratch. Push the boundaries:
- Something small in stature but big in impact are centerpieces that describe the destination. Create miniature works of art reminiscent of the guest destination, without them even needing to step outside the hotel ballroom. - On a larger scale, transform an ordinary building into a vintage soda shop. Fill it with the destination’s local beverages and local sweet treats, as well as in-character servers who maintain the feel of that certain era in the location. This type of custom activation is an interesting portrayal of the destination for the guest because it is a hyperbolic example of the uniqueness of a city. While exaggerated, it is an accurate depiction of the quirks within the destination and as a result, greatly benefits the DMC which executed it. - Connect the destination with non-local guests through custom crafted activations that reflect the city in all of its wonder and weirdness. Any DMC should be focused on honing the relationship of the guest with the city while delivering all event-related tasks.
Culinary Awareness and Alternatives
Numbered are the days of high caloric foods dressing the tables. In their place are healthier options, with allergens labeled, that are both cost-effective and tasty. So why this change? And why now? Well, in this age of information, people are not only more educated and aware of what they consume, but more concerned about potential long-term health effects. Please your guests and respect your location:
- As health and wellness move to the forefront of people’s minds, their diets are changing. People are focusing on ensuring they make healthy choices when it comes to food. In so doing, the vegetarian diet is becoming increasingly popular in Western countries, especially given the rise of autoimmune diseases. With those two major changes, DMCs and catering companies must incorporate more vegetarian options more regularly.
- Destinations have been adjusting accordingly but at a slow rate. The largest change that DMCs are set to feel in 2019 is the expectation to have multitudes of healthy vegetarian options using fresh, unprocessed food. These options must be offered at the same rate as non-vegetarian options, including sides and desserts. Even if you are in a city where meat dishes are at the core it is imperative that DMCs come up with similar vegetarian options that are both healthy and tasty.
Even more important is understanding the destinations that may have different diets because of religious beliefs. It is up to the DMC to educate their meeting planner on the customs and beliefs of the host destination in order to best serve the visiting guests. Meanwhile, it is the meeting planner’s job to respect those customs and ensure that their guests have an authentic and enjoyable experience in that destination while respecting the beliefs of the host country. A meeting planner traveling with their group to Mumbai, India, for example, must have conversations with their Mumbai DMC beforehand in order to educate their guests on the culture, and the likelihood that beef would be omitted from all menus. Still, DMCs must be the driving force in inclusion and maintain that force through the coming years.