Two hundred people arrived for the opening breakfast at a 2015 Canadian conference to discover There Was No Coffee. The young first-time volunteer staff had forgotten to brew it.
Three days later, people were still grumbling about CoffeeGate. I bet that even today, if you asked attendees what they remembered about the event, most would immediately recall the There Was No Coffee moment. A memorable moment, yes, but not a good one.
Experienced meeting planners know that every meeting has its share of unexpected surprises. While some thrive on the adrenaline rush of dealing with them, most of us work to minimize surprises by anticipating potential problems and developing appropriate just-in-case responses.
Minimizing surprises like CoffeeGate is default behavior for meeting planners. We do not want poorly planned and/or executed events, because the inevitable result will be unhappy attendees and chaos of one kind or another.
But not all meeting surprises are bad. Because meeting professionals want to minimize the likelihood of unexpected surprises during execution of the events, there’s a tendency to unconsciously minimize planned surprises for the attendees. And that’s unfortunate — because planned surprises are one of the most wonderful ways we can improve attendees’ experience of the event!
Some tourists make a point of seeing the sights. Others prefer to immerse themselves in the ambiance of a new country/culture. And some want nothing more than to switch off and relax in a place far from the trials and tribulations of work.
I’m an immerser myself. During our three-week vacation in Europe last year I especially remember:
The manic delight and amusement of the village elder who guided our car around the trucks that blocked the exit from the tiny hill-town of Monticchiello.
All the tiny Tuscan cafés we lazed in so we could hang out and watch Italians go by.
The Lake Como fish-seller who took twenty minutes to successfully seduce me into buying the last of his fried calamari.
Noticing some of the tens of thousands of little things—timings of traffic lights, scarves, houseplants, drinks, and climate—that shape and define a country’s culture.
The young hotel receptionist, bless her, who sympathetically soothed us when we arrived exhausted after dragging our suitcases from the Zurich train station.
A perfect day in the heart of the thousand-year old New Forest with our good friends Bruce and Elizabeth, at whose wedding my wife and I met.
Event attendees are tourists too.
Some event tourists are there for the content. They gravitate to the event’s museums and art galleries, concrete accomplishments of the far and recent past. They want to know the established order.
Other event tourists are there for the connections. They are stimulated by the ambiance, excited by the opportunities of meeting new people, open to learn important things, little or big, from their peers.
And some event tourists are there for a break from a job that may have become too much for them, that has exhausted them to the point where they need an official excuse to disappear from the office.
What kind of event tourist are you?
And what kind of event tourists do you cater to at your events?