As originally seen in Associations Now.
The frenzied pace of today’s world has given rise to “bleisure travel”—combining business and leisure travel—with conference-goers looking to squeeze in time to see the city outside of the hotel or convention center. Curating destination experiences appeals to attendees’ desire to have fun and take advantage of unique cultural experiences while also learning and networking.
Meeting organizers can earn high marks for incorporating unique cultural experiences and one-of-a-kind activities.
“What people are looking for from their leisure trips—experiences they can’t find anywhere else—has become an integral part of what they are looking for in conference and professional development experiences,” says Leonard Hoops, president and CEO of Visit Indy. “They want to be able to return home and say, ‘I learned this content, I connected with these people, and I experienced these things that I couldn’t do anywhere else.”
When Indianapolis hosts Routes Americas 2020 February 4-6, welcoming 1,000 delegates representing 90 airlines and 300 airports, integrating city experiences is considered critical to the success of the event. Visit Indy and partners Indianapolis International Airport, Indiana Economic Development Corporation, and Accent Indy DMC are planning only-in-Indy tours and events to inspire the attendees from all over the world, most of whom will be visiting Indy for the first time.
“When planning for a group with limited Indy experience, we find a balance between embracing what we’re known for and giving guests a taste of what locals love about our destination,” says Kimberly Hoffman, director of event services at Accent Indy.
Through tours and networking events, guests will have the opportunity to do everything from step onto Victory Podium at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to taste truffles with a local chocolatier.
Hoffman added, “the timing of the Routes Americas tours and events is best-case scenario, as they take place on the front end of the conference—leaving time for participants to continue to explore areas of the city that are of interest at their leisure.”
The experience of working with a DMO like Visit Indy and a partner organization like Accent Indy are incredible resources for planners looking to add activities and one-of-a-kind experiences that they couldn’t find through a quick online search. For example, a group could visit a go-kart facility for a taste of Indy 500 fun, but with the help of partners, the addition of an actual IndyCar driver to serve as a coach or mentor becomes a possibility—which is more affordable than you would think, especially in the off-season, Hoffman says.
At the Gallery Pastry Shop, north of downtown Indy, visitors can take classes to make macarons, those scrumptious meringue-based confections from France. During the holiday season, you can take advantage of pie-making and gingerbread classes too. And chew on this: Delish magazine named Gallery Pastry Shop the No. 1 stop in Indiana in its list of the best chocolate in every state.
Attendees looking to up their game at their next party can take a mixology class at Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery near downtown Indy in the historic Fletcher Place neighborhood. It’s the first combat-disabled, veteran-owned distillery in the country and the first distillery in Indianapolis since Prohibition. Co-owner Travis Barnes served three tours in Iraq as a U.S. Marine. In 2019, Travis and his co-owner wife, Hilary, are overhauling the distillery to match more of Barnes’ military roots—the hotel was named using the military alphabet code for the couple’s first initials.
Non-culinary adventures can also be found all over the city. You can help attendees curate their time off during your conference by organizing small-group outings or providing detailed maps and links to local hot spots in your convention app. Options include gondola or cocktail boat cruises on the Central Canal featuring singing gondoliers or captains, a beer garden visit and tour at Newfields, and swing dancing or duckpin bowling in Fountain Square.
“Everyone could use a hand with planning their experiences and frankly it’s a key part of the job of the destination organizations (DMO/CVB) to do so,” says Hoops. “Ultimately if you help curate a great experience for groups it can make the attendees fans for life, with them wanting to come back as well as tell others about it in person and on social media.”