Breathing New Life Into Frequently Utilized Destinations
By Lisa Paul, Head of Marketing at Kuoni Destination Management
I am often asked by clients when they should utilize a destination management company (a "DMC") versus when they should manage things directly. They expect an honest response from me, and an honest response they shall receive. Always.
No matter how long a planner has been doing their thing, there's simply no way for even the most experienced planner to keep up on what's hot, new, changing, closing, opening, under new management, declining in service level, etc. This is where the local expertise that a DMC can bring to the party becomes so critical. But what truly distinguishes one DMC from another, when it comes to making a not-so-local planner seem like a local expert, is the depth and efficacy of the DMC's creativity.
Creativity goes far beyond a DMC's ability to develop a program theme / creative treatment, or design an unforgettable experiential event, or bring a client company's messaging / business content to life. The best DMCs will also know how to breathe new life into frequently-used destinations, enabling repeat visitors to feel like they're experiencing the same old destination for the first time.
There are only so many U.S. destinations that can accommodate certain kinds of meetings, events and incentive programs. This can often cause companies to cycle back around to previously-used destinations every few years, if not every year. Examples include Las Vegas and Orlando. However, there are tricks of the Meeting, Event & Incentive Management trade that can help ensure a company's attendee experience is fresh and unique each time they re-visit these locales. A DMC's ability to effectively apply such practices is what will separate the men from the boys, as they say.
Without giving away actual trade secrets, I can share with you some of the thought paths that often guide our creative teams' abilities, when it comes to reinventing a destination that a client's attendees have visited before.
First, there are always new developments in every destination. It is important to start any planning / development phase with an understanding of what has changed since your attendees were there last. What new event venues have opened up? New restaurants and hotels? New activities, tours, excursions? A new way you're allowed to utilize the ballpark? New toll roads or highway modifications that might impact (hopefully improve) transfer times? Getting up to speed on what's different in a destination you've visited before is an important first step, and often a byproduct of the exercise is some inspiration around how to position a previously-used destination to your people.
Next step … it's all about the spin. Surely during past visits your attendees will have experienced the classic, traditional corporate meeting, event or incentive program elements in a commonly-used destination such as Vegas or Orlando. Repeating some of those same program elements is not necessarily a bad thing – surely some of your attendees will be first time visitors, and they will want to take in the destination's must-see / must-do experiences for themselves. However, well-constructed packaging of those program elements in your overarching "event story," as we refer to it here at Kuoni, as well as the application of fresh, unique twists, can make any experience exciting and new (sung in my best lounge singer, Love Boat theme voice).
Developing a creative angle from which your spin will evolve requires some research (not to be too salesy, but this too is where a DMC partner can be invaluable). Some steps you can take on your own include digging into the destination itself. Do some investigating into the destination's history. Often there are surprisingly cool aspects of a city's history that can make for a very inspiring thematic twist on your presentation of some or all of the program elements. Also, is there a hot, new celebrity personality who's from that destination? Perhaps a popular reality TV star, a celebrity chef or an athlete recently in the news? Or even a household name / not so new celeb whose story could be incorporated into your event packaging. What foods, beverages or other goods are produced locally in the destination? What is the state's official bird, flower, nickname?
Looking into current / world events is also a great place to start, when seeking inspiration. Will a summer or winter Olympic Games be commencing within the months that follow your program? A major sporting championship game? An entertainment awards ceremony?
Finally, look at your organization's own company-wide business objectives, the business content / messaging of the program you're planning, your current brand messaging and any new product launches / service offerings that can be leveraged.
Now, your program's spin might apply solely to the elements you feel need to be redressed (e.g. activities, tours and excursions that your people may have done in years past), while the rest of your program is designed around your brand, your business content and/or thematic event treatments. Alternatively, you might opt to encompass your entire program in your creative spin and have each program element underpin your overarching event story.
If we're looking only at giving previously-experienced tours & activities a fresh face, let's assume that your company has a keen focus on a corporate-wide initiative named "Innovation through Inspiration." You can put a fun twist on each one of your attendees' optional tours & activities while making each one part of a single larger team-building competition – engagement and education will have your attendees looking through an entirely different lens, as they participate in their tour / activity in a fun, competitive way.
For example, the classic Hoover Dam Tour in Las Vegas allows participants to learn about an astounding story of how construction of the world's biggest dam at the time (now one of the Seven Wonders of the World) was originally deemed physically impossible by professional, experienced engineers in the 1920's. When the dam was completed in 1936 (two years ahead of schedule), it was hailed as an innovative engineering marvel.
The oh-so-cool tour of the Las Vegas Mob Museum naturally puts a spotlight on Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. Siegel of course was known as a violent, dapper gangster, but history will also always remind us of Siegel's vision to innovatively develop the Las Vegas desert into a casino capital at a time when it was little more than a sleepy desert town.
Your Hoover Dam and Mob Museum tour participants can comprise competing teams, and each team can be given a few simple tasks to complete before, during and/or after their outing (which can be anything from answering relevant trivia questions accurately in an app, participating in a scavenger hunt exercise during the tours, producing and presenting their own "TV ad" or Investor Pitch relevant to their tour which can be part of your business meeting the following day, etc.… all rooted in keeping "Innovation through Inspiration" at top of mind among your attendees). The TV ad / Investor Pitch project is my favorite – seeing the creativity, innovation and humor that typically surface when a team presents its TV commercial or investor pitch for a "brand new" innovative concept such as the Hoover Dam or a casino mecca in the middle of a barren desert – great stuff.
Developing the spin that will make your attendees' experience unique and fresh requires not only research and creative conceptualization, but whenever possible a "North Star" comprised of valuable strategic insight should be your guiding force from beginning to end. Having your finger on the pulse of your stakeholder's program-specific goals, their vision, their attendees' interests, demographic and past experiences… all will help ensure you hit the mark and design a program rooted in empathy and driven by relevancy. Gather as many descriptive adjectives from your stakeholder as you possibly can – what kind of vibe, energy and aesthetic are they envisioning? What kind of words and emotions would they like their attendees to be using and feeling once the program has ended? Throw all of this strategic insight onto a whiteboard under a North Star column, and refer to it often – over and over, as you brainstorm and design your program's overarching event story. Ensure each and every attendee touchpoint underpins the collective strategic guidance in this column. It will drive not only the unique twists you put on your attendees' experiences in a repeat destination, but it will guide you into a rewarding and successful program execution that will have your stakeholders blown away by its relevancy, timeliness and fresh feel. Even if it's your 13th time operating the program in Las Vegas. Trust me. You've got this. And if you want a co-pilot, ping your DMC partner. We live for this stuff.