Corporate meetings and incentives often include optional activities designed to give attendees the opportunity to relax, network and experience the flavor of the host city. These activities come in many shapes and sizes; they can be hosted by the sponsoring organization, paid for by attendees, and be for individuals or for groups. So how do you elevate these experiences from standard to stand-out? Here are some tips for planning exceptional optional activities to enhance your corporate event programs, that everyone will be raving about rather than ditching for a day at the pool.
- Know your audience – What are the demographics of the group? Are they extremely price sensitive or willing to splurge? Are they early or late risers? Do they like tried and true experiences or something novel and different? What has worked well in the past? Asking for group feedback via an event survey is a great way to collect data for subsequent years.
- Offer something for everyone – It may seem obvious but cannot be overstated; most groups will have varied interests. Make sure to cover your bases by offering options for the adventure seekers, culture lovers and those who prefer a more low-key experience such as a relaxing boat cruise or a day at the spa. However, be careful not to offer too many activities that you have trouble meeting your minimum number of attendees required per contract.
- Make it exclusive – Provide experiences that guests cannot do on their own such as cooking lessons with an acclaimed chef in a private home, surfing lessons with professional surfer or a private tour of a museum collection that is off-limits to the public.
- Respect the local culture – Consult with an expert to make sure the local culture is being honored and represented appropriately. For example, in Hawaii, many resorts have cultural ambassadors on staff that may be consulted while planning functions; for example, starting the activity with a Hawaiian blessing or chant.
- Enlist a local team member – If the meeting that you are hosting has a local office in the area, seek advice and participation from a team member. On a recent PRGN conference that Castle attended in Kyoto, Japan, a local PRGN member found a Japanese tea master to perform a tea ceremony for the group. Learning something new from someone you know or are affiliated with creates a more personal, memorable experience.
- Add an element of surprise – On a walking tour in Prague, Czech Republic that Castle coordinated, costumed historical characters appeared at various points along the tour, offering unique stories about the city and surprising guests with a beer tasting at one stop and home-made local pastries at another.
- Consider a give back opportunity – Although this won’t work on all programs, community service projects such as a beach cleanup or stuffing backpacks for a local school, can be an extremely memorable activity for attendees and provide a win-win for all involved.
- Think sustainable – Ideally, activities offered should cause no harm to the surrounding environment. Meeting planners can do their part by making sure the snorkeling cruise they employ uses reef safe sunscreen, trash is recycled or composted, etc. Sustainable practices also go a long way in making people feel good about the activity they participated in.
- Set expectations – communicating what to bring, details of the excursion and any restrictions (i.e. proper footwear required, children not allowed, etc.) is important so attendees are well prepared, know what to expect and have an enjoyable experience. It is also critical to communicate any cancellation policies or weather-related details.
- Try it first – Site inspections are not only vital in conference planning to ensure the meeting space fits and service is up to par, the same holds true for any optional activities on the agenda. Was the tour guide a bore? Was the day too jam-packed leaving everyone exhausted? (Hint: sometimes the old adage, less is more applies). The only way to find out is to experience the excursion first hand. More often than not, Castle will make changes to an initially suggested tour, tailoring it specifically for a group, by adding elements here and there to create a unique itinerary.
Planning optional activities takes time, requires a lot of legwork and includes financial risk. Making sure people “opt-in”, participate fully and ultimately enjoy the experience, adds to the success of your overall program.