. Adding More Meaning to Luxury Meetings | Northstar Meetings Group

Adding More Meaning to Luxury Meetings

How business event planners are creating luxury rooted in an organization's larger goals.

The Palm Court at the Park Hyatt Aviara's VeraVia facility in Carlsbad, Calif.

When finalizing details for this year's annual retreat, planners at the Hospital Association of Southern California aimed to add purpose to the relaxing itinerary. Instead of just providing a luxurious trip for its own sake, they tied the event to the work the attendees did back at their hospitals.

For the gathering at the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, Calif., the HASC took over the resort's on-site VeraVia wellness facility. The experience was geared to teach the 80 attendees science-based, holistic ways to enhance their (and their patients') well-being using a combination of Western and Eastern philosophies. Sessions on fitness, nutrition, stress management and more were on the agenda.

"Being a health-care trade association, our attendees are very interested in these topics," says Pat Wall, vice president of membership and education for the HASC. "Also, we like to give them something personalized, and the program offered a customized look at each person's exercise habits, offering ways for upping their game."

A hospital association naturally is a good fit for the life/work benefits of a wellness retreat, and the experience in Carlsbad became almost guilt-free because the personal practices attendees were learning could be brought back to their workplace.

No matter how over-the-top events are, planners are finding that breaks, leisure outings, team-building activities and more are enhanced by rooting them in the organization's larger goals. 

Adding Intention

"The attendee journey is about intentionally addressing every element of your event -- anything that you are doing for your event should align with the motivations of your key attendee personas," says Kate Bek, event solution design and content strategist for BCD Meetings & Events. "Planners must step back and ask those questions: What are our business motivations? What are our key messages? Who are our attendees, and what do they want to get out of this meeting?"

Kate Bek of BCD Meetings & Events

Bek gives the example of a company with a focus on fashion and design that sent a group to Milan. For a team-building event, BCD arranged a trip to a high-end-textile and garment maker. Attendees were given a tour of the factory and then designed their own silk fabric. The manufacturer turned the group's sample into silk scarves and ties, which were waiting for participants when they got back to their rooms the next night.

"The group worked together on the design, so it tied back to the company's team-work business goals. It was an incredible level of personalization that they could not have done on their own," says Bek.

The gift also helped maximize post-program engagement. Bek adds: "If it's a tangible gift they are going to use and constantly evokes your brand, then the journey doesn't stop at the end of the trip; it keeps going long after they're home."

Gifting and Gratitude

Event gifts are a great opportunity for planners to deliver meaningful luxury to attendees. Bek gives the example of a group that was sent to the Swiss Alps for its annual incentive trip, in which every element of the gifting experience was thought through. To start, the invitation to the incentive was an iPad with the event app pre-loaded on it. 

"Before they even left, they had their agenda, travel information and bios of people going on the trip," says Bek. "It was a very luxurious way to invite people."

When participants arrived at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, a personalized gifting station awaited them, offering Victorinox Swiss Army watches, naturally. Guests could try on watches and selected the size and style they liked, and they received their choices in their rooms later that day. The giveaway told attendees they were in for a luxurious, but purposeful experience. 

"It ties back to the destination, it's personalized, it makes a statement just as they're getting to the hotel and sets a tone for the whole experience," notes Bek. 

Post-trip, the on-site photographer created a coffee-table book depicting highlights of the event. Rather than a link to a website, participants received a luxuriously bound photo book in the mail.

Tapping Local Partners

"Companies need to always focus on delivering ROI to their stakeholders -- customers, investors, the community, employees," says Dan Tavrytzky, managing director of the DMC Network, an organization of destination management companies in more than 50 cities and regions. "With that in mind, a meeting that is properly planned and executed with a 'wow' factor will reinforce the company mission and goals, which ties back to the event's ROI."

Dan Tavrytzky of the DMC Network

DMCs can help planners create that meaningful "wow." According to Tavrytzky, "Knowing the organization's larger goals and understanding the parameters of past programs' successes and failures, we can craft a customized program that will highlight the synergies between the attendees, the company goals and the destination's unique qualities."

Bronwyn Slade, director of sales for Pacific Destination Services, a DMC servicing Western Canada, points to ways her organization has helped visiting groups deliver an exclusive or luxurious experience at their events while tying it into a bigger business theme.

One of Slade's clients in the medical-supplies industry wanted to reward its top achievers with a special outdoor experience in scenic Whistler, British Columbia, while emphasizing attendees' professional connections.

The PDS team created an event based on the biathlon, a sport held in Whistler during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, in which athletes cross-country ski, stopping along the way to engage in sharpshooting competitions. As it took place in summer, the 150 incentive winners and their guests used bikes and were trained to use 22-caliber rifles on targets ranging in size from golf balls to grapefruits. The medical theme was emphasized during the gun-safety training by addressing injury care and prevention.

"We recognized the winning teams with our own ceremony that included chocolate medals, a live band, an Athletes Recovery Tent and a 'Medical Tent' -- which actually was a bar serving local craft beer," says Slade.

In another Olympics-related theme, PDS recently worked with an international group of 700 attendees as two merged companies sought to foster a new relationship and get employees working together.

Guests were divided into groups corresponding to their country of origin, given flags and participated in a "parade of nations" like the Olympics' opening ceremony. They next were transported to a former Olympic venue where the groups were mixed up to participate in a winter-sports game day. The event concluded with a hot-chocolate bar and snacks around a fire pit, where all could congratulate one another and come together as one group.

"The core message of the Olympic Games is striving for greatness while representing your country," says Slade. "This can draw a parallel in the incentive program as teams strive for greatness within their corporation with financial targets met in addition to promoting best practices for success."

Greening Business Goals

Lavish getaway destinations don't get much more impressive than Monaco. The city-state is synonymous with glamor, but the principality also serves as an exemplar of purposeful luxury, particularly in its approach to sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Elsa on the Monte Carlo beach is the first 100 percent organic restaurant to receive a Michelin star.

Fully 82 percent of all hotel rooms here are eco-certified in the Green Globe, Green Key or "Planet 21 by Accor" standards, and Monaco is home to the first carbon-neutral heliport as well as Elsa, the first 100 percent organic restaurant to gain a Michelin star.

A number of local planning agencies are as expert at incorporating sustainability into their clients' events as they are at creating one-of-a-kind experiences. Lafayette Monaco, for example, offers visiting companies "green tastings" featuring samplings of herbal tea, garden spices and edible flowers along with lessons about the local flora and how to preserve it.

Another firm, InspireMe Monte Carlo, recently helped plan a conference for an audit-consulting firm with 220 attendees. "They had wanted a destination committed to sustainable values and development," says Maria Arnolda Egberts, CITP, CMM, CMP, owner of the DMC.

An opening session laid out the strategic goals of the event, including fighting hunger, reducing food waste and taking action on climate change. On the food front, the DMC worked with the F&B team at the Fairmont Monte Carlo -- one of the many properties in the principality that InspireME engages -- to prepare a menu using locally sourced ingredients and encouraged the addition of vegetarian alternatives to meat dishes. Leftovers were distributed to local aid associations. Group transportation and walking options helped keep attendees out of local taxis.

Throughout the program, the group was updated about these steps and their purpose, helping to reinforce the nature of the conference.

"As business event organizers," says Egberts, "we are able to make a very important contribution by using sustainable design methods, techniques and international sustainable standards in our events."

Inspiring Experiences

Andrea Strauss, president of Classic Conferences Inc., works hard to ensure that the luxurious experiences she plans for her clients are rooted in a larger corporate goal. This past May, she organized a trip for more than 100 pharmaceutical salespeople and their guests, taking over most of the One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico, which Strauss calls "a 10-star resort."

Dining on the beach at the One&Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico

"When you're greeted by one of the head butlers on your arrival, your bags are not just in your room, they're basically unpacked," says Strauss. "The staff at a hotel of this caliber goes above and beyond and raises the bar constantly."

Such attention, Strauss notes, provides a valuable lesson in customer service that can inspire even the most successful salespeople.

Connecting activities to the field in which the attendees work enhances the experience. Strauss cites a recent CSR event constructing 30 wheelchairs, which she arranged for medical-device client's national sales meeting. U.S. veterans who don't have wheelchairs or the equipment they need were brought in to receive the chairs. "It was really heartfelt and fit the work that organization was already doing," says Strauss. 

Adding Meaning to Meetings

Luxurious events that come across as an extravagance can be a waste of money. Planners need to be sensitive to any sign that these lavish elements are not being well-received. In fact, American Express Global Business Travel's 2019 Global Meetings and Events Forecast found that 14 percent of respondents cited "perceptions around 'resort' destinations for meetings" as one of the top factors influencing their site-selection decisions. Connecting high-end experiences to larger, bottom-line themes is an effective way to address such concerns.