When considering a venue or destination, it’s good practice to think of the entire local area. Sure, you need a venue that addresses your needs, but it shouldn’t stop there when you’re compiling places for your short list. Look outside the immediate venue grounds and offerings to uncover places and activities in the surrounding area. The setting can be as much of a lure as your conference or meeting content.
If you select a local area that is rich with things to do your attendees may extend their stays and choose to bring traveling companions, which makes them more likely to come. But that’s not the only benefit of a great location. A destination with exciting offerings means additional revenue opportunities for your event with outside tour bookings and more. Plus, there may be cultural events, intellectual exchanges, and historical places of note that will help enrich your learning and networking as well as sway undecided attendees to choose your event over others.
Carefully Consider the Area to Achieve Greater Benefits to Enrich Your Event
In considering a destination and its local surroundings, savvy meeting and event planners consider two things: activities and exchange. The activities aspect gives attendees (and fellow travelers) something to do outside of the meeting and can be a significant draw in deciding to attend. Interesting and enriching activities may also mean additional revenue for the event with add-on tours and affiliate agreements.
In addition to activities, exchange possibilities are critical to consider. What does the local area offer as far as intellectual or corporate learning is concerned? How can that add a unique value to your event? What about a cultural exchange? Are there events or museums of interest to your demographic? Are there speakers from those organizations that can add depth to your offerings?
A vibrant destination can add a lot to your meeting or event. With more attendees and streams of revenue, it’s smart to look for more than just a “cool” venue.
Here are some popular things to think about when considering an area:
Leverage Local Universities, Corporate Headquarters and Healthcare Innovators for More Dynamic Learning
Bringing in specialists to address the education needs of your attendees can be expensive when you’re covering speaking fees and travel. However, if you select a destination known for its thought leadership in an area that suits your event requirements, you’ll likely only need to cover speaking fees.
In addition to being a less expensive way to get top-notch speakers in the industry at your event, it makes it easier to fit into their busy schedules. While a speaker may not have time for a cross-country trip and a speaking engagement, they may very well be able to accommodate your event needs in a few hours or even over a lunch break because little traveling will be required as they’re already in town. For example, many event planners have used the speakers at the Disney Institute or those from the University of California at Irvine Health system when hosting an event in Anaheim. The local startup community (a particularly well-established one) is also a bastion of knowledge that will help you set your event apart from others.
Pro tip: Before selecting a venue, talk with the convention and visitors bureau to find out what the area is known for and what corporations, institutes, and universities are nearby.
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Help Your Group Achieve Creative Inspiration
Creativity and emotional IQ are hot topics these days, and many groups desire some instruction on what they can do to improve. When looking for nearby leaders don’t just consider the big tech firms, universities, and other known think tanks. There could be “softer” learning that interests your group just as much. For instance, Humana worked with the Disney Institute to learn more about establishing a company culture.
Don’t write off potential educational experiences based on the type of company or university. The keynote speakers at Disney Institute, for instance, are not just Disney employees. They’ve worked in a wide variety of industries including global conglomerates and nonprofits. Uncover the potential creative learning and inspiration in the local area beyond your venue.
Learning consideration: Learn more about what your attendees need. Is there an area they are struggling with professionally or personally? Start there and then try to match up possible education and training.
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Provide Distinct Opportunities They Couldn’t Get Elsewhere
Each area is unique. In addition to leveraging the brain trust of the nearby organizations, consider the potential for exclusive behind-the-scenes tours. The thing that makes these a valuable part of your agenda, or pre- or post-conference activities is that you play upon the uniqueness of the area. Look for ideas such as behind-the-scenes tours of local sports franchises, entertainment venues, aquariums, or whatever would be of interest to your audience.
Consider: Many big entertainment organizations publicly offer behind-the-scenes tours like Disney and the Los Angeles Angels. However, there may be others that simply don’t advertise such tours but can accommodate your group. If there’s an organization you think would be of interest to your attendees, ask the organization or inquire at the CVB for help with setting something up.
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Invigorate Your Event with Outdoor Activities
Classroom learning and networking can be done anywhere at any meeting or conference. When you leverage outside education, fun, and networking activities, you offer a whole other world to your group. Consider an area that is full of outdoor options that fit all needs from relaxing at a beach or park to more heart-pounding activities like trail biking.
Another great idea is selecting an area that’s known for something like skiing or surfing. Attendees may enjoy picking up a new outdoor hobby or being able to say they tried something new and amazing. How about learning to surf in an area with a reputation as being Surf City USA?
Keep in mind: While many people love the outdoors, some simply won’t want to (or can’t) take up the physical demands of some activities. Don’t leave them indoors! Create other opportunities that allow them to enjoy the natural beauty of the local area in comfort and a more leisurely pace. These could include nature tours, boating/cruising in the harbor, or even an activity that is found on many bucket lists like whale watching.
Make History and Culture Come Alive for Your Attendees
If your event is bringing people in from many different areas, allowing them to experience some of the local history and culture can help underscore a theme of diversity or inclusion beautifully. Don’t overlook local museums, cultural organizations, or groups that can coordinate special activities or education sessions with your group in mind.
Again, these types of opportunities can help set your event apart, especially if an attendee feels like the only way they can experience that is through attending your event.
Consider: You needn’t select an area that’s either hot in entertainment or culture. Many thriving cities offer both. For instance, in Anaheim, in addition to all of the exciting modern entertainment options, there is the Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana, Nixon Presidential Library in nearby Yorba Linda, Casa Romantica Cultural Center, Los Rios Historic District, and many more within a short drive.
Don’t forget to ask about cultural events that are occurring while your group is in town. This is one of the best ways to help your attendees have an appreciation for the area. It is also one of those fear of missing out moments where they likely understand they can’t attend that festival whenever they want. It’s offered once a year (or so) and your group is lucky enough to be in town when it is occurring.
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Entertain Your Group in Ways Unique to the Area
In addition to cultural exchanges and historical opportunities, you want a local area that is ripe with entertainment and the arts. Again, playing up these components of your event can play on the fear of missing out and establish exclusivity, two major psychological pressure points in selling more tickets for your event. If attendees believe you can offer them something they cannot enjoy on their own (because they don’t have the exclusive access that you do) or you are allowing them to see it in a different way, it becomes a major draw for your event.
Look for: local areas that have a plethora of arts. This could be painting, sculpture, dancing or theater. Make a list of what’s available and consider ways in which you might incorporate those organizations, like having an improv class led by the local theater employee.
In addition to traditional museums, consider special interest museums like a flight, dance, or transportation museum. There are also likely to be additional forms of entertainment that will fit all types of audiences. For instance in Anaheim, there’s the Packing District, a mecca for unique dishes and food stalls. There’s also Downtown Disney, a popular promenade featuring restaurants, upscale shops, and exciting entertainment.
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Offer Personalized Fun Opportunities to Attract More Attendees
So far we’ve covered ways in which the local area can enrich your program. But don’t forget that attendees want to have fun too. Think about possible hobbies and interests such as shopping, dining, and watching sports. After all, all sessions and no fun makes attendees restless.
When considering these things look for locales that offer a wide variety for every budget. Some attendees will be dining on the company dime, while others may be splurging just to attend your event. Make sure you select a place that offers something for them all. For restaurants, that means things your foodies will love (food can create a unique experience) as well as your budget-conscious friends who are looking for some delectable comfort food. There may also be regional specialties you can highlight or farm to table movements that are popular in the area of your choosing.
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Again, this is a category that you want to ensure covers all pockets, from high-end boutiques with unique offerings to outlets and cheap souvenir shops. If your attendees enjoy shopping, they’ll appreciate some guidance as to where they can find the best. Even if they don’t enjoy shopping, they may have gifts they want to pick up for people at home.
Anaheim is a great example of an area that offers retail therapy for all budgets. In just a short drive, it offers the Anaheim Garden Walk, the Outlets at Orange, and the shopping/entertainment destination of South Coast Plaza in nearby Costa Mesa. There is also plenty of theme shopping at Disney.
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If your demographic enjoys sports or a particular sport, there are a lot of opportunities to incorporate them into your event. Sure, you can offer tickets at a discounted price if the local team is in town (and the sport is in season) but there are other activities as well; such as behind-the-scenes tours (mentioned earlier), photo ops, renting out an area of the stadium or arena, bringing in someone from the organization to speak, or offering a special VIP meet and greet. These ideas can also be a source or additional revenue for your event.
Remember, some attendees may be seeing the sport for the first time live. A trip to the local hockey arena or rugby stadium may be a first for some of your attendees.
Personalize your offerings: Dining out, shopping, watching sports are common hobbies that likely fit your audience. But if they don’t, determine audience interests and try to build some unique programming around them by using the local community. For instance, people interested in craft brews may love the opportunity to sample some of the regional beverages.
If you don’t know what your audience is interested in, think of their demographic. Do some research. Better yet, ask them when they enroll either directly or request that they list some interests or hobbies in their attendee profile.
When it comes to planning meetings or multi-day events, your destination is as important as your venue. You want to ensure guests have plenty to do. But tourism isn’t the only benefit of selecting an exciting destination. Think about the possibilities behind rich exchanges in your event. Subject matter experts; thought leaders; and captains of industry, technology, or health care can add an exciting facet to your event that might be lacking if held elsewhere. Before selecting your venue or destination consider the many ways it can flavor and fund your event by offering something that is unique to that area.