For some city destinations – think Vienna, Barcelona, Paris – the logistics are a planners’ dream. The short distances and walkability, combined with the choice of hotels and venues, and cultural attractions are a no-brainer. The question then remains – “How do I bring my guests to these cities in a new way?” One of the answers is to help them experience the city like a local. City destinations are not set up for guests in the way a resort is (and this is likely why the city was chosen!) It is important to help your participants take a comfortable step outside of their comfort zones and take part in local life.
One of the best ways to tap into local flavor – both literally and figuratively – is with the food. Of course your guests will be enjoying the cuisine, but involving them in a cooking class is a great way to deepen the experience and understanding. Making the paella in Spain or foie gras in France provides not only an experience on site, but a memorable way to revisit the trip when recreating the recipes at home.
As we design business travel, it is important to think experientially. Instead of creating a checklist of sights you want your guests to visit, make a checklist of things you want your guests to feel and experience – the details of the tours will follow and become more meaningful in this framework. Set your guests up with situations in which they can have new experiences. In many destinations, there are opportunities for enjoying interactive dinners in the homes of locals. Dinners with the lords and ladies of Ireland, in the Hutongs of Beijing, or a Cape Malay dinner in the Bo-Kaap of Cape Town, are unforgettable and leave a truly lasting impression.
Another way to deepen the experience in a destination is to volunteer. We have seen CSR programs as a strong trend in business travel and it has been so positive for both the engaging corporations and the destinations they visit. We have seen guests help to enhance the facilities at schools, engage with local food banks, and rebuild homes. On a program recently held in Livingstone, Zambia, the company’s anniversary happened to match with that of a local school’s. The group hosted a joint celebratory dinner at the school where the children, teachers and international participants joined the dinner and had an inspiring evening with fantastic food under the African sky! Additionally, the evening also resulted in donations by many of the delegates, who sponsored student meals and tuition for the remainder of the school year. These opportunities give participants the chance to interact meaningfully with citizens, and oftentimes allows them to see places in the country that are not often visited by the average traveler.
To me, all of this comes down to helping people connect emotionally with the destination. We want the experience of the trip to create an impression not only in the moment, but once the guests return home, the following month, and the following year. As we evaluate the business objectives of an event, perhaps including a few emotional objectives will help us better reach our goals as advocates and facilitators of global tourism.
VP Sales & Marketing, The DMC Group
FICP Education Committee