Cookie-cutter event experiences won’t suffice for your attendees. You want to give them something out of the ordinary, an experience they will remember. And for good reason. Experience is incredibly important to building lasting memories, and positive attendee experience improves retention.
But finding a unique host city that is easily accessible and in-tune with what event planners need is a challenge. You want a locale that wows, makes a good impression from a hospitality perspective, and provides the needed support for your event. And you want them to serve it up in a way that is unique to their area.
Why a Unique Host City is Important
Some potential attendees will make a decision on whether to attend based on location. An intriguing location means an event ticket (or several), while a run-of-the-mill locale means they’ll likely skip this year for the next.
Defining the location for an ideal event experience is an extremely personal one, and knowing your audience will help you select something that will make an impression. Here are a few things to look for in order to select a host city that will resonate with your guests:
- Cultural Uniqueness
- The Appeal of a Local Arts and Crafts Scene
- Opportunities for Blood-pumping Excitement
- World-Class Knowledge and Experience
- The Awe of Natural Wonder
- The Flavor of the Beverage Scene
If you want your conference to be unique, look for a host city steeped in originality. Select somewhere that can’t be confused with anywhere else. Sure, you can still have a unique conference experience in a city used by everyone else, but it is a lot harder. Selecting a host city that makes potential attendees stop and think about the time they’ll spend there evokes much more of a reaction and resonates with them on a higher level than somewhere they just went a few months ago (or even last year).
Cultural events serve as good differentiators and provide unique experiences. For example, events held in Calgary, Canada can incorporate a “White Hat Ceremony” as part of their festivities. This exclusive opportunity allows delegates to become honorary Calgarians by receiving a souvenir white hat. It’s a fun local tradition that has been around since the 1950s, with a long list of past participants from princesses to presidents being “white-hatted.”
A White Hat ceremony can take place at the airport as delegates arrive or anytime during the meeting or event. Whenever and wherever it takes place, it’s something they’ll always remember and is a strong opportunity for social media shares.
Want even more traction from the white hatting? Livestream the ceremony and make sure everyone participating knows the event hashtag. You’re about to create some Insta-magic.
The Appeal of a Local Arts and Crafts Scene
Connecting with the artisans in the area can give attendees a feel for the local people and their culture, not to mention their handiwork makes for cherished souvenirs for friends and family back home. However, most event guests don’t have time to spend looking for crafters and “Made in” designations, so they grab something on an airport store shelf minutes before departure.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can create meaningful exchanges between craftsman and attendees that create a deeper appreciation for the area by experiencing the handiwork of local artisans. The easiest way to do this is by working with a convention and visitors’ bureau in your host city that can bring these special people to your group, like Meetings + Conventions Calgary (MCC) did with the Makers’ Market.
Calgary is known for its entrepreneurial spirit. It is rich in a population of local artisans, who create everything from soap to coasters to coffee. Attendees are often delighted when event planners use local products in swag bags, because these items are usually things they are not familiar with or do not have access to at home. However, MCC went one step further by incorporating a Makers’ Market right into an event, as was done with Go Media Canada. This event brought local artisans to Go Media Canada participants, making it much easier for attendees to take time out of their hectic schedules to explore the Canadian-made, hand-crafted goods.
In addition to hosting a Makers’ Market, you can include local swag in hotel rooms as a welcome gift or parting souvenir. Another idea is to arrange an edible Makers’ Market with tastings of local foods and/or beverages.
Opportunities for Blood-pumping Excitement
If you’re looking to attract a younger audience or you want to shake up your after-hours activities at your next event, consider a city with plenty of original excitement. Move beyond everyday activities and look for a host city that can serve as a “Basecamp for Adventure.”
To do this, think about what your host city offers that other cities don’t. Yes, zoos are nice but you want to consider activities that will differentiate your event from others. Is the host city known for extreme sports? Maybe the arts opportunities are unparalleled.
Next, think about what your audience wants. Adrenaline junkies, for instance, won’t be impressed by a sedate wine tasting, but they will like other heart-pumping Calgarian offers:
Shooting down the longest downhill luge track (5,905 feet!) in the world at Skyline Luge Calgary (group and team bookings available).
Racing on the bobsleigh track made famous by Team Jamaica during the ’88 Winter Olympic Games and the Disney film Cool Runnings. It’s considered the fastest sport on ice. The pilot will speed you through ten turns reaching speeds of over 60 miles per hour and experiencing up to 4 Gs of force. There’s also a summer version that takes 4 riders down a track of 10 turns hitting speeds of nearly 50 mph and a force of 2 Gs. But if both of those options are just a little too fast for your group’s liking there is also the Acura (snow) Tube Park that is the largest of its kind in Western Canada.
Soaring across North America’s Fastest Zipline. The adventure incorporates three different lines and takes about an hour. After the training line, attendees are brought to the 295-foot ski jump tower for the Monster – North America’s fastest zipline. Next up is the eight-story Plaza Zipline, which takes riders into a treed area and back down to the base.
Leaping off an eight-story platform at Free Fall in a bungee-style harness (talk about a trust exercise)!
Gamification can be used outdoors as well. Think multi-activity challenges and leaderboards to encourage attendees to participate and increase the stakes. You can create individual competitions or divide your group into teams for greater interaction.
World-Class Knowledge and Experience
If your group has a unique interest or need, speak with the local convention and visitors bureau to leverage local knowledge and experience. Learning more about the intellectual capital available in an area can give a place a unique advantage as your next event location.
WHAT PLANNERS GET FROM A LOCAL KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE
There are multiple benefits to looking for a host city that is rich in an area of knowledge that appeals to your group. Some of these include:
- A larger speaker pool.
- Creative ideas and experts from another area of the world.
- “Field trips” to local areas of interest such as universities, labs, archeological digs, and others that are unique to the area.
- Additional attendees or volunteers who are interested in your event’s subject matter.
If you plan for an industry or association conference, you can contact local members in your proposed host city or work with the CVB to uncover some of the most unique sites, research, and experts in your area of interest. For instance, event planners looking for the following industries might consider working with Calgary to meet their attendees’ needs, because Calgary has a special group called the Calgary Champions.
Calgary Champions is a group of professionals that helps bring conferences of interest to Calgary. This group looks for events in particular industries or learning paths that the city is well-suited to host because of its deep knowledge and talent in the areas. Calgary is fortunate to have a diversified economy. The city is in a unique position to host healthcare, science, energy, and several other fields:
Consider budding hybrid industries and blends (like health tech) that may interest your group. Find out how the host city is innovating by talking to their CVB that can help make the necessary connections to individuals leading that local innovation.
The Awe of Natural Wonder
Natural beauty is another unique differentiator when it comes to host city selection. Do you want to host your event in an urban area? Around beaches? The desert? Each has its own appeal and defines the area and the experience.
Even some urban areas can boast amazing green space and outdoor activities. Calgary, for instance, is Canada’s sunniest major city. Attendees at events there can take advantage of the 497 miles (800 kms) of walking and cycling paths. They can rent bikes and ride along the river cycling path or rent kayaks and rafts to float past downtown on the Bow River.
Sometimes an urban area can provide amazing natural wonder within a short distance so attendees can enjoy the best of both worlds—the convenience of a central location mixed with the allure of nature. As an example of how conference attendees can enjoy natural sites they can’t see every day, Calgary is well within day-trip driving distance to the following:
- the stunning Canadian Rocky Mountains (1 hour)
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Banff & Jasper National Park (1 and 3 hours, respectively)
- Dinosaur Provincial Park (2 hours)
- Waterton Lakes National Park (3 hours)
Create a unique experience for attendees that marries their area of interest with a local subject matter expert on an expert-led outing to an area of natural beauty, such as an excavation site, place of historical significance, or a national park.
The Flavor of the Beverage Scene
Foodies are quick to mention the “taste” of a town, but there’s more to enjoy than delicious dishes. Crowds get thirsty. When they do, what will your host city have for them? Will you serve the same beverage they can get in any airport bar, or will you look for opportunities for attendees to savor the flavor of the land?
Serving up distinct regional tastes, or educating attendees about a beverage process they know little about can set your event apart from others. Make sure you talk to the host about how you want to stress the differences in the culinary or beverage offerings in the area, and not just how things are harvested and created. What makes their local beverage better, tastier, earthier, oakier, etc.? For example, Alberta’s ideal growing conditions produce some of the world’s best barley, helping to fuel Calgary’s booming microbrewery and distillery scene.
A popular activity in Calgary is biking; what about adding biking and microbreweries? Get your crew on some 15-passenger u–shaped bikes and pedal your way between Alberta’s top craft beer taprooms and breweries.
Creating a craft cocktail in teams and allowing judges to pick their favorite can be a lot of fun, and something attendees don’t get to do every day. You can also educate them on the local beverage and then give them a blind taste test to see if they can select the local drink.
As a savvy event professional, you know you want a host city that is going to make a big impression. But after pouring over countless RFPs, they all start to look alike. That’s why you want to explore areas that can provide your attendees with a truly unique experience. Look for these in an area’s hospitality, its artisans, its natural beauty, and its food and beverages.
If you’re looking for a unique host city, Calgary can provide customized, local experiences. It’s that local experience that will set your event apart from all the others.