A Taste of Hometown: Liven Your Event with Local Flavor
Many attendees will travel hundreds of miles, perhaps even cross an ocean, to visit your event. There are many reasons that people travel these distances: the speakers, promise of professional advancement, the scheduled entertainment, etc. Frequently, however, there is a big draw that event planners do not utilize to its full potential: the location.
The host city of your event is often a significant attraction for out-of-town guests. It can often make the difference between someone purchasing a ticket or not. Too often, event planners cloister attendees inside, shuffling them from one room to another without taking advantage of the location in any way. Of course, heading outside is not the only way to bring some of the surrounding color to your event. When it comes to including local flavor, event planners have several options.
Include Local Highlights
Every area has something that makes it famous: even if it is a local secret. For instance, it recently came to my attention that West Virginia is celebrated for its pepperoni rolls. Maybe this is a well-known fact, but it alluded me until recently. Now, since there are no West Virginian cities in the top 50 event destinations, you may not be having pepperoni roll-themed snack breaks any time soon (although…, maybe). It should serve as an encouragement to discover what is special and unique about your area.
Notice the emphasis on special and unique. If you’re hosting an event in Louisville, Kentucky, it would be easy to base a dinner or entire night around the Kentucky Derby. Yet, isn’t that a problem? That it’s easy? Instead of doing something simple and run-of-the-mill, try to find a way to deepen your guests’ experience and help them discover new insights about the destination.
Sure, the Kentucky Derby is an essential aspect of Louisville’s culture. But, Louisville has a rich sports history. In addition to the Derby, the city houses the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and is the birthplace of Muhammad Ali (and home to the Muhammad Ali Center).
You don’t even need to reach into history for local flavor. To stick with the Louisville example, currently, the city is considered one of the top 10 destinations for foodies and features the largest municipal urban forest in the United States. While you don’t have to use every fact about the local area, you will present a richer experience for your guests as you introduce more and more local information.
Food and Beverage
Many elements make up a city’s personality, with regional foods hovering near the top. While deep dish pizza in Chicago, peaches in Atlanta, and barbeque brisket in Austin are great, try to dig a little deeper. Move beyond the tourist traps to discover what specialties the residents enjoy. If your venue has a chef, they may be able to inform you of the local food scene and recommend dishes that represent the area. There are likely to be a variety of local options for beverages – juice bars, small coffee shops, breweries, wineries, etc. – that can quench your attendees’ thirst while filling their minds about the local scene.
Check out local food festivals. Frequently there is a story behind the theme and location. For example, since 1945, Arkansas has held an annual pickle festival primarily due to a pickle factory located in Atkins. Similarly, Michigan hosts an annual cereal festival in Battle Creek, which is home to the Kellogg’s headquarters.
You could also try to find a local mission-driven brand. This is a restaurant where the staff is primarily composed of people who have overcome troubles in life and are on the rebound (former youth offenders or previously homeless individuals, for example) or where the majority of the profits go toward a cause. Likely, in return for a donation and the ability to promote its purpose, a local mission-driven brand will happily feed your attendees.
Museums are an excellent opportunity to introduce some culture to your event. Frequently, they will even rent out an area for a cocktail hour or mixer. However, your cultural options don’t stop at museums. There may be a local comedy scene or a specific style of music or dance that is popular in the region. Or, the area could be known for a particular artistic style or movement. If your research comes up dry, there may be someone at your venue who could help (or, at least, point you to someone who could).
The great thing is that people don’t necessarily have to leave your venue to enjoy some culture. You could bring in a local dance troupe for a show or have a comedy group perform their act. Bringing in performers with ties to the local scene is a great way to immerse your attendees in the native culture. You could also have some home-grown vendors and artisans on-site to create commissioned works, or they could fashion some gift bags for your guests. That way, attendees could take some of the local culture home.
The venue you choose could even be part of the local culture. If you select a location with historical importance or interest, make sure to highlight that while promoting the event. The site could also provide a view of specific landmarks or the entire city. This can be especially effective if you schedule networking sessions or cocktail hour during times when guests can watch the day turn to night.
Several cities are known for their ability to integrate nature within the urban landscape. If there is a nature preserve nearby or nature trail or ropes course, a group excursion could be pleasant. A private, guided walking tour around a cultural or historic district would also provide an enjoyable and relaxing break. Another possibility is an expedition to a unique event that occurs with some regularity and predictability (for example, every night in Austin, Texas more than a million bats fly from underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge).
If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to arrange a group outing, you could check with your venue or a local city-guides to see if they could deliver a presentation that highlights unique, local day trips your attendees may enjoy. These people may also have a connection with museums or other local attractions and could arrange private, behind-the-scenes tours.
When planning an outdoor activity, be sure to stress inclusivity. Some attendees may have physical limitations that constrain their ability to participate. Think ahead to deliver experiences that can accommodate all abilities. It is bad form to leave guests behind simply because the host did not find a way to include everyone.
How to Discover Ideas
If you are unfamiliar with your host city and the personnel at your venue runs short of suggestions, there are other ways to discover local flavor.
The local Convention Visitors Bureau is a great place to start. These folks house a wealth of information and are always happy to help. Another option is contracting a destination management company. This will require some reallocation of your budget, but it may be worth the expense if you want to include several activities. Also, tourism websites may provide some suggestions, but smaller travel blogs occasionally have better information on what’s happening in the local scene.
By including local flavor in your event, you are delivering something unique and personal to your in-person guests. As digital options increasingly encroach on all aspects of our lives, it is nice to take part in an event where you truly had to be there.