Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 13 2015

This Is What Your Attendees Really Care About When They Travel

By David McMillin

Every meeting planner aims to articulate the value of on-site education sessions and networking opportunities. Those are the components that really matter to attendees, right? Not so fast. While earning continuing education credits and forging new professional relationships are crucial pieces of a conference experience, attendees are looking for more than these traditional takeaways. New research from American Express Travel reveals that today’s travelers are less focused on business success and more concerned with personal fulfillment.

So what do most of them really want? It’s something more valuable than a new contract or a new job opportunity. When American Express Travel surveyed more than 1,000 consumers on their attitudes toward travel, 82 percent said they are more interested in making memories than making money.

Think about the way marketers frame the majority of convention offerings. Get your business done in three days. Meet your company’s next big partner here. Earn the education you need to climb the ladder to a bigger leadership position.

All of these activities represent potential benefits for attendees, but they’re like other travelers, too. They’re not just coming to conventions for the standard education-networking combo. In fact, while they’re listening to a presentation about new research, new products or new trends that will impact their business, their minds are most likely wandering elsewhere. The survey shows that 91 percent of people would rather focus on meaningful life experiences over their profession.

Meeting Your Attendee Needs For More

So what can you do to design an experience that delivers more than learning and networking opportunities? Here are a few suggestions.

1)    Select speakers who can connect on an emotional level. As you sort through options for general session speakers, ask yourself who would be able to tug on your own heartstrings. Rather than focusing solely on experts that apply directly to your attendees’ professional needs, think of big-picture speakers who have inspiring stories to tell — the ones who have scaled mountains, defied odds and motivated change on a global scale. For example, one of the speeches that still sticks out in my memory is Salman Khan’s address at PCMA Convening Leaders 2014 in Boston. His story of the personal impact the Khan Academy has had on young students resonated with everyone in the room. The standing ovation seemed like it might never end. It was an unforgettable moment.

2)    Curate a program that makes attendees better people — not just better professionals. Yoga classes? Sessions on preserving mental health in a busy digital world? A morning fun run that unites attendees for a five-mile jaunt through the host destination? In addition to outlining educational tracks and evening cocktail hours, make an effort to add opportunities for attendee wellness.

3)    Help attendees plan some post-conference time. Everyone is busy, but that doesn’t mean attendees are looking to get home as soon as possible. The American Express Travel findings reveal that 85 percent of people plan to travel, as much, if not more, for leisure in the next five years. Be sure to add suggestions on how to make the most of their travels with  recommendations of activities in the area and sights to see, and if possible, give them the option to secure their hotel room rates for additional nights.

What does your organization do to keep attendees inspired? How is your conference program going above and beyond the typical benefits of a three-day experience? We’d love to hear your stories. Share them in the comments below.

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