With consensus growing that hybrid formats will become the go-to option for events, planners face the challenge of making the in-person experience worth the added expense and risk. The solution: micro-experiences.
Credits: VISIT FLORIDA, The Rodriguez Group
Covid restrictions on events point to an immediate future of smaller, local meetings. From the attendee perspective, smaller events might present less of a risk but also offer less potential to form new business connections through networking. How can event planners turn lower attendance numbers into a selling point?
Rather than try to make an event’s appeal hinge on seeming as grand as it once was, event planners can redirect the conversation to concentrate on luxury and exclusivity. Working on a smaller scale allows event planners to give attendees experiences that would not be possible in a larger group setting.
What kinds of micro-experiences are the most marketable in the current climate? Given the growing scientific consensus around airborne transmission risk, outdoor activities are an obvious answer, but there has to be more to it than that. Reducing fear is not the same as adding value.
In this article, we turn to Florida with its warm winter temperatures to look at three key types of activities that continue to hold appeal: luxury experiences, conservationist activities that align with corporate social responsibility (CSR) messaging, and personal development exercises. In addition to providing value for in-person attendees, many of these micro-experiences are also streamable, offering a welcome escape for those checking in from home.
Warm Waters Make for Luxury and Exclusivity
Rare, limited-edition, one-of-a-kind — these descriptors normally reserved for luxury products also can be applied to in-person events in settings typically reserved for high-end leisure.
Yachts and other privately chartered vessels can make for an open-air adventure at events limited to 100 or fewer participants. Smaller corporate events including incentive trips, closed product launches, and team building activities can be held on boats with private catering and live musical performances for added comfort and ambience.
But how can this type of experience fit into a live streaming hybrid model?
DELIVERING OPEN-WATER LUXURY WITHOUT SACRIFICING VIRTUAL ENGAGEMENT
The Florida coastline offers multiple options for sea-bound micro-experiences. Naples, Marco Island, and the Everglades demonstrated the hybrid potential of these maritime excursions with its live-streamed “Sail Away With Us” campaign conducted earlier in 2020.
Maura Zhang, whose firm Synergy-Connect represents Florida’s Paradise Coast CVB, explained that the boat was docked throughout the event and they used the region’s cellular network to connect to the Internet. Naples also had live-stream video connections set up at two nearby ocean-front hotels, both as a backup and to add variety. Managing the event remotely from her office space, Zhang used her team’s online meeting platform to coordinate the incoming signals and broadcast them back out to virtual participants.
“We did two rehearsals before the event, and we had backup plans in case the weather turned bad or something else went wrong. If you’re doing something live like that, definitely have several backup plans: plan A, plan B, plan C…”
– Maura Zhang, Midwest representative, Paradise Coast CVB
Credits: VISIT FLORIDA, Pete Cross and Patrick Farrell
The Power & Motor Yacht blog also recommends using cellular networks to connect to the Internet while on a boat. A standard smartphone or a dedicated hotspot device like the Glomex WeBBoat or the WiriePro can do the trick. These devices usually remain connected up to 15 miles from shore, and even further in some regions. It’s also worth noting that the T-Mobile network announced in 2019 that it would be extending its coverage throughout the Gulf of Mexico, which borders Florida’s Western coastline.
Two caveats: For those wanting to go farther afield, satellite connectivity is another option, but it tends to be more expensive and have lower speeds with longer lag times. Those planning to remain docked can make do with marina WiFi connections, but conduct a broadband speed test beforehand.
Activities That Fit Naval Capacities
Other factors to consider with a boat excursion are the size of the vessel required, whether it will be used to tour scenery or bring participants to a desirable location, and the activities planned on the boat itself.
For its “Sail Away With Us” campaign, the Paradise Coast used the Miss Naples catamaran, which has a maximum capacity of 48 people (but fewer with social distancing guidelines). For those wanting to accommodate larger groups, the Naples Princess is a luxury yacht that can be chartered for roughly three times as many people. Both vessels can be booked for private tours around Naples Bay and catered cruises. There is also the option to visit the exclusive island of Keewaydin, accessible only by boat.
Credits: VISIT FLORIDA
Fort Lauderdale, nicknamed the “Venice of America” because of its 165 miles of navigable waterways, also provides multiple options for scenic cruising. The ‘water taxi’ service has vessels of various sizes available for private events, and the largest normally accommodates a maximum of 200 participants. Popular themes include sunset and full-moon cruises, cocktail cruises, and dock-and-dine restaurant trips.
Credits: VISIT FLORIDA, Peter W. Cross
For those wanting to incorporate sport fishing into the itinerary, Florida is well-known for its “Hook and Cook” programs, which allow participants to catch fish that later can be prepared by professional chefs. Tampa Bay’s Godfrey Hotel & Cabanas will make a restaurant meal out of any fish caught through Tampa Bay Fishing Charters, Inc.
Other top sport fishing options include Bud N’ Mary’s Fishing Marina and Robbie’s Marina on the island of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. While their fresh catch is cooked to order at Robbie’s, attendees can hand-feed local tarpon from the dock.
Credits: VISIT FLORIDA
A chance to unwind on open waters could be precisely the kind of micro-experience to attract attendees who have been confined to their home region for most of the year. What’s more, selecting a micro-experience that allows for incorporating a virtual audience can help you offset the associated costs through increased ticket sales or audience reach that might attract sponsorship.
Conservation Activities Can Contribute to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
With its capacity to generate a sense of deeper purpose, CSR works well for team-building exercises and events where bonding with other participants is central to the goal. And with the push to move as many activities as possible outdoors, there has never been a better time to make conservation-themed retreats a priority.
Smaller gatherings can visit protected wildlife reserves without disrupting the ecosystem’s natural balance. Florida is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including many protected species such as manatees and sea turtles. The state has an abundance of nature preserves and wildlife rehabilitation centers — some of which have experience hosting high-end hybrid events — which are perfect for meaningful micro-experiences.
NATURE RESERVE TOUR OPTIONS
Naples is bordered by the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which covers 40 percent of Collier County coastline and includes 110,000 acres of mangrove forest. The reserve is committed to preservation through research, education, and land protection; visitors can help to direct resources toward the program by booking boat or kayak tours, or by independently organizing an activity through the reserve’s kayak rental program.The Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, can be explored through Wooten’s Everglades airboat rides and kayak tours, each of which glide across the shallow wetlands with minimal disruption.
Credits: VISIT FLORIDA, Peter W. Cross and Patrick Farrell
WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AND HANDS-ON PRESERVATION ACTIVITIES
For a closer encounter with Florida’s protected wildlife, the Palm Beaches Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) includes a sea turtle museum and rehabilitation center. The center is located on one of the world’s most densely nested sea turtle beaches and its outdoor turtle hospital provides educational tours for visitors. It hosted the 2020 Blue Awards as a hybrid event, with a presentation by Joel Sartore of National Geographic live-streamed to virtual attendees.
The Florida Keys Dolphin Research Center, home to bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions, offers tours, educational sessions, and interactive experiences for private group events of up to 200 people. The Welcome Center’s two private rooms each accommodate up to 50 people.
Credits: VISIT FLORIDA, Trevor Green
Panama City Beach has a program called Stay it Forward where groups can help restore the sand dunes of Mexico Beach, still recovering from 2018’s Hurricane Michael. Teams can work together to plant sea oats on the dunes, in this way creating a wind barrier that prevents further beach erosion.
Combining outdoor adventures with a larger purpose can be the perfect way to persuade eco-conscious clients to attend events in person.
Personal Development Activities Can Be Restorative
Corporate events can be heavy on the delivery of information, whether training new staff or disseminating product knowledge, but it is essential to give participants the chance to digest this information without mentally checking out from the event program. Personal development exercises can strike the right balance between a relaxing pause and a mentally stimulating activity.
Attendees can benefit from creative expression and wellness exercises. Breathtaking outdoor settings not only enhance the calming effect of these micro-experiences but also offer a safer alternative.
WORKSHOPS, WELLNESS SESSIONS AND TEAM-BUILDING ACTIVITIES
Florida’s warm winter climate and rich biodiversity can provide an exceptional backdrop for exclusive experiences.
In the Everglades, renowned landscape photographer Clyde Butcher offers tours through the grounds surrounding his gallery space. Participants can learn about photography techniques while exploring 13 acres of private land in Big Cypress Swamp, which is itself nestled in a million acres of lush subtropical wilderness. In addition to its guided swamp walks, the gallery’s exclusive nature retreats provide guests with modern amenities in the midst of a wild ecosystem.
Credits: VISIT FLORIDA
Back in the population centers, most of Florida’s top resorts offer yoga and meditation sessions. These activities can be taken outdoors to event lawns or the beach, and many resorts can set up the equipment needed to serve a virtual audience.
The Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort has live-streamed outdoor team-building activities such as relay games, bonfires, and dinners on the beach — all of which can be combined into a single day-long outdoor retreat on the shoreline.
Credits: Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort
Sharing in a collective experience of nature’s serene beauty could be restorative for attendees who have spent a day absorbing corporate talking points.
Smaller events may mean fewer networking opportunities for attendees, but if planned well, can facilitate deeper connections through more exclusive, memorable micro-experiences. Event planners shouldn’t miss this opportunity to give their in-person attendees the VIP treatment.
Florida’s safe outdoors presents a much lower health risk, particularly during the four to six months when much of the country is stuck indoors. Beyond respecting this safety concern, planners can add extra appeal to in-person events by incorporating elements of luxury, conservation-oriented CSR activities, and personal development opportunities.
Instead of thinking only about what they can’t do under social distancing restrictions, event planners need to start thinking about what they can only do with small groups.