friends bowlingExperiential meetings continue to be one of the industry’s top trends for 2018. Meeting participants demand immersive, collaborative and memorable experiences. But, according to the recent Meetings Today trends survey, the biggest challenges for planners this year will be either “lower budget” (22.3%) or “increasing costs” (36.7%). And in Europe, notes the American Express 2018 Global Meetings and Events Global Forecast, a fourth of respondents will eliminate off-site optional activities first in order to cut costs.

So the question stands: how can you serve up more experiences without breaking the bank? Good news: you don’t have to lower your expectations to plan more experiential meetings. Dana’s uncovered some economical ideas for you.

    1. Mix up the routine. Meetings already provide a break from the day to day. Just expand on that concept to enhance a more experiential vibe. If your session is usually set up as theater-style, see if a classroom-style would work. Try out a lounge setting with sofas and small tables instead of a traditional meeting room. Change up the schedule by taking shorter, more frequent breaks. (Or fewer, longer breaks!) Add a stretching session or quick walk into the agenda. Capitalize on all of the senses to create a more experiential ambience. It doesn’t cost much to add music or aromatherapy to the room set-up.
    2. See what’s free and can be included. Always, always start with the CVBs, and see what incentives they may offer. For instance, Visit Singapore’s INSPIRE program features free cocktail experiences and themed business tours for eligible corporate and incentive groups. Closer to home, Visit Music City (Nashville’s CVB) promotes activities that are “cheap or flat-out free” that meeting groups can take advantage of—like free live music and economical dining establishments. Partner with the CVB from the beginning, and work with a DMO to maximize your budget. DMOs are local experts and know what attractions, destinations and events in their areas are free or low cost. And don’t leave inclusions on the table. For instance, Palace Resorts in Mexico and Jamaica includes unlimited private functions in its all-inclusive rate—so you can say “yes” to that outdoor cocktail party overlooking the beach!
    3. Creative always outplays expected. Brainstorm low-cost alternatives (think mini golf, ping-pong and bowling) to typical experiential activities. Join the “escape room” craze, and test your group’s problem-solving skills. Costs range between $20-$35 per person, depending on the location. Stage group exercise classes, a meditation class or a fun run/walk, rather than individual spa appointments. If your destination hotel is in a central location, opt for a cultural or historic walking tour of sites in lieu of a trolley, bus or Segway tour. (For instance, the 90-minute Historic Downtown Walking Tour in Indianapolis is only $5 per person.) Or for a more thrilling excursion, scare up a local ghost tour. Plan a lunch break to wander through a farmers market, visit a cathedral, stroll through a campus or climb to the top of a local landmark for a view.
    4. Dig into interactive food experiences. To put a twist on an old saying, you can have a champagne event on a beer budget—especially now that many groups prefer casual, less fussy dining experiences. Consider hosting a “mocktail” hour instead of a cocktail event—with fun alcohol-free versions of mojitos, cosmos and Bloody Marys. Offer a beer tasting, adding local brews to the mix. Plan a meal with a shared experience. Who misses steak or seafood when you get to make your own pizza or s’mores? Always work with the chef to see how he or she could add fun educational aspects to the meal.
      What’s more, consider replacing the typical sit-down dinner with a barbeque or picnic. Or join the “meatless Monday” trend by planning some vegetarian meals. Not only will you save money, you may spark some healthy habits.
    5. It’s not “off-season”…it’s value season. You might get more bang for your experiential buck if you choose your destinations off-peak. Not only will you snag better rates, you’ll have a bargaining chip to help offset the cost of activities. Going to a ski resort off-season? Ask about a hiking excursion or fly-fishing workshop. Headed to a hot/humid site like Texas in the middle of summer? Plan your outings after dark, when it’s cooler. See what little perks the hotel or conference center offers when you book off-season. Whether it’s a custom hot cocoa break or gourmet ice cream sandwiches, your group members will remember these simple, seasonally inspired diversions.
    6. Giving back, the best experience of all. Work with your local contacts to see how you can add a CSR (corporate social responsibility) program to your agenda. For instance, Visit Orlando will help match groups with local volunteer projects, ranging from building houses and preparing meals to theme park conservation efforts. Whatever project you take on, you’ll feel good about adding an experiential activity that’s both worthwhile and memorable.

For more ideas and trends in the meetings industry, contact Lynn Kaniper at or 609.466.9187, ext. 117 today.

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