Say you’re an event planner on-site for an upcoming event, anticipating thousands of guests in an exciting locale. You’re rockin’ and rollin’, fine-tuning last-minute menu additions and perfecting personalized amenity welcome gifts.
And then, just as you’re about to finalize the finishing touches, a massive fire breaks out, and four of the hotel’s on-site restaurants burn completely to the ground—a day prior to your attendees’ arrival.
Because the event is international, a host of the event’s anticipated attendees are already en route and there is nothing you can do to re-direct or divert guests from their scheduled arrival.
As implausible as this sounds, this scenario really happened. To me and my team of event organizers.
Luckily, we rallied and were able to improvise. But it was an all-hands-on-deck effort.
How did we overcome this situation, you ask? By assessing the resources available and ultimately crafting a makeshift wall created with piping, draping and up-lighting to hide any unsightly damage. The building was still deemed safe to enter and attendees were none the wiser that any part of the venue had been damaged.
While this may be an extreme example, it is possible and event planners need to be prepared for the worst.
So whether you’re scrambling to fix a snafu or simply aiming to boost the attendee experience, the following are event and travel hacks that will position you to elevate the experience and maximize your event investment, no matter what obstacles are thrown at you.
Air Travel Hacks (Arrival Day)
Avoid airport lines by negotiating a service fee with airport authorities in advance to create special lines for your group.
Hosting a group travel cruise? Equip your airport staff with prepaid gift cards on debarkation day. That way, if cruisers arrive at the ship from the airport and their luggage doesn’t, you can transform an otherwise frustrating airline luggage experience into an enjoyable one by sending them shopping.
Or, if you’re anticipating an early arrival but don’t have much ready for attendees to do right away, book a destination orientation activity.
Similarly, create a hospitality room on departures where attendees can relax, or change and store their luggage if the hotel is not able to offer late checkouts.
Check-In and Hospitality Desk Hacks
Because the last thing tired travelers want to do is wait in another line, create an experience at check-in with bottled water, a hospitality bar and entertainment. During larger waves of arrivals, send event team members into the line to speed up the process.
Create a virtual hospitality desk by publishing a phone number attendees can text questions to. Simply messaging a question can be a major time-saver when attendees are running late for an event or activity.
Position your physical hospitality desk near the activity dispatch area or breakfast room so the desk team can serve a dual purpose.
Event Catering Hacks
Food and beverage is a critical part of the event attendee experience. Overall, create fresh, local and seasonal menus—they’re generally less expensive and tastier, not to mention eco-friendly and sustainable. While you’re at it, ensure attendees stay awake during your conference by designing menus that promote energy and learning. Serve nutrient rich & fresh foods. Limit high glycemic foods (anything made with primarily white flour or sugar) as they lead to blood sugar rush followed by a quick crash.
- Breakfast–Avoid the sugar rush (followed by the sugar crash) by nixing white breads and pastries, and instead feature a high-protein meal that will slow sugar absorption: whole grain breads, oatmeal, lean breakfast meats and eggs.
- Breaks–Gone are the days of break-time sweet treats (see said sugar crash). Fresh fruit, nuts, crudités, cheeses or whole grain crackers are where it’s at. Going the all-popular energy bar route? Make sure it includes protein.
- Lunch–The key here is not to overload—instead, create a balance between proteins and carbohydrates by serving protein (chicken, fish or other lean meats but not turkey), fresh salads, vegetables and whole grain rolls.
- Dinner–This is the time to design a menu that leaves the attendee feeling satisfied and really break out the destination’s local flair. Serve food and beverages from locally sourced providers and prepare them the way they’re supposed to be served to enhance the attendees' experience.
Related: The same-old rubber chicken and so-so hors d’oeuvres won’t leave a great impression on you, your message or your event as a whole. That’s why event planners need to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in event catering.
Ensure your hotel and event staff are prepared for the unexpected. We’re talking special meal requests here. Often, attendees will change their minds on activities, but you planned for their special meal request on their first activity choice. Be prepared with a few specialty box lunches that cater to many special requests such as Kosher, Halal, gluten free, etc.
Out and About Hacks
In larger cities where traffic is an issue, consider providing public transit passes—not only does it let attendees get a local travel experience, it allows them to avoid long wait times in traffic.
Water activities on your agenda? Keep a supply of resealable plastic bags at your activity departure area, as attendees often want to protect their valuables from the elements when kayaking, snorkeling, sailing and whale watching.
Anticipate inclement weather and schedule back-up activities and events in case rain ruins your pool party, or high winds wreak havoc on your luau. Consider options like an on-site movie theater, sports bar and gaming area, spa experiences, shopping shuttles to indoor shopping centers, etc.
Create an internet café adjacent to your hospitality or registration desk. If the hotel doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi, doing so is a great free option for attendees—just be sure to equip with printers so attendees can check in online for flights, take care of business as needed and send a note to loved ones back home. This will also help free up the number of requests your team receives to do this for them.
Map apps that have the ability to go offline—like CityMaps2Go or Google Maps—are meeting-planner lifesavers. And, they save your attendees from unnecessary headaches, too. Caching a map is actually very simple—simply zoom in on the area you want to save, type “OK Maps” into the search bar, and press the “Search” icon.
Keep an extra set of cables and chargers handy for attendees who forget mobile device and tablet chargers. Also suggest that attendees unlock their smart phones and purchase an international SIM card to avoid roaming charges and cut costs with making calls abroad. International calls from their rooms can be expensive, and making free calls with Skype or Google Voice or the Hangout app through the hotel’s Wi-Fi service is a cheaper option.
Related: Learn how to ensure event, incentive and recognition program data security so your program doesn’t fall prey to malicious or accidental data breaches.
Safety and Security Hacks
In today’s reality of terrorism and travel delays, providing an emergency contact card that attendees can have in their wallet could be a lifesaver—literally. You can send these out virtually as well so they can save it to their smart phone. An emergency contact card would include on-site contact info, assistance with air travel, the hotel address and name and embassy info for international trips.
Using their secure mobile device, encourage travelers to take pictures of their passport and other important information (driver’s license or credit cards) they’re traveling with. If documents or cards are lost or stolen, having a visual copy is most helpful.
Related: Check out these 31 additional event security questions you should be asking to ensure the security of your event attendees, your data and your business’ financial investment is well-kept.
Is Event Risk Management on Your Radar?
In today’s event industry, risk management is a critical component of any group travel and event strategy. Is it part of yours? According to a Global Business Travel Association survey, nearly 30% of companies didn’t have a risk management plan in place or were unsure if there was one. Get valuable risk management insights and actionable takeaways so you can start putting a risk management plan in place in “Ensuring Safe & Secure Experiences.”