How to Plan a Destination Meeting and Agenda

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How to Plan a Destination Meeting and Agenda

By Beth Buehler

There are meetings that gather groups in-house or online, and then there are meetings held in carefully chosen destinations that both attract attendees and fit the venue, lodging and activity needs of the gathering. The big question is how do you plan a destination meeting and agenda that people will travel for, whether it’s on their dime or not?

Personally, I love attending destination meetings as I not only learn and network, it gives me a chance to explore communities and perhaps go early or stay late if time allows. Here are five handy tips about how to plan a destination meeting and agenda.

Contact the Local Destination Marketing Organization

Local destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are one of the first entities meeting planners should contact when considering where to hold a destination meeting. In Colorado, DMOs are usually in the form of convention and visitors bureaus, tourism offices, Chamber resort associations, etc. Sometimes, tourism entities are located within town or county governments.

If the community is large enough, the first stop is generally the DMO’s sales team. In smaller towns and regions, the contact may be the executive director of the organization. Regardless, staff can help match your group size and meeting needs to potential lodging properties and venues. Some even have an RFP process allowing planners to plug in the basic details only once and to receive responses from several suppliers. In addition, DMOs often have photos and videos to share, maps, other tools to help market the meeting.

In Colorado, we also are fortunate to have a statewide association, Destination Colorado, that connects planners to DMOS, venues, and service providers around the state. Destination Colorado also has a very RFP process that allows planners to plug in basic meeting and event details and receive responses that match up from suppliers. Last fall, when holding its Customer Appreciation Event in Aspen, Destination Colorado worked closely with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association to present a great meeting.

The welcome reception setup in Hotel Jerome's courtyard during Destination Colorado's 2020 Customer Appreciation Event. Courtesy Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

Announce the Meeting Dates Well in Advance

For two annual conferences that I attend, the Colorado Governor’s Tourism Conference and Meetings Industry Council of Colorado Educational Conference and Trade Show, it is extremely helpful to have the following year’s dates announced before the meetings wrap up. They immediately go on my calendar!

At Gov Con, this type of announcement gives conference planners and next year’s destination a chance to create excitement by showing a video, leaving swag on the tables and having local representatives delivering some “rah-rah” at the closing luncheon. On the other hand, the MIC Conference is held at the Colorado Convention Center in the heart of downtown Denver every year, which is the right solution for this gathering.

Denver's Colorado Convention Center is LEED Gold certified. Courtesy Stevie Crecelius/VISIT DENVER.

Utilize the Expertise of Suppliers

Make it easy and hire a destination management company (DMC) that works in the community where you are hosting a meeting. DMCs team up with hotels, venues, outfitters, attractions, décor firms, caterers, audiovisual companies and more to help meeting planners create the ideal gathering.

If bringing a DMC on board isn’t in the cards for your budget, suppliers like those mentioned know the communities they serve very well and partner on many occasions. For example, they can be excellent resources to help find a rooftop luncheon space for 50, an outfitter that can offer various activities for 200 attendees to choose from on a free afternoon, and breweries that have spaces for receptions and offer tours.

Allot Free Time on the Agenda

After making the effort to travel to a destination, I am always disappointed when the meeting agenda doesn’t allow for some free time to wander around on my own or with industry friends to check out area trails, restaurants, shops, attractions, nightlife and more. The attendee of today typically doesn’t want to stay at one hotel or conference center the whole time.

It’s also a bonus when there are pre- and post-activity options to plug into such as a volunteer work project to help a local cause or a guided hike or bike ride. On the flip side, if attendees need to get work done during free time, it may mean the difference between them being able to register and take part or not. So that’s OK, too!

A volunteer trail work day prior the Colorado Governor's Tourism Conference in Vail. Courtesy Beth Buehler.

Integrate Local Touches

Anything local continues to be on point. It’s part of the fun when talking about how to plan a destination meeting and agenda. Infuse local into nearly agenda item, from asking a local person to do a welcome, serving foods grown locally or in the state (e.g., Olathe sweetcorn, Palisade peaches, Pueblo chile and Colorado lamb) or having a reception with local distillers, brewers and vintners serving and discussing their products. A few years ago at Gov Con, a farmers’ market was held at the Grand Junction Convention Center specifically for the 500 attendees and a space set up outside with a locally made camper and camp chairs around a fire pit for break times.

Before flying in a keynote speakers, see if there is a great option of someone who lives locally or in Colorado who matches the focus of your meeting or the personality of your company. Colorado is full of interesting people who call the state home. The same goes for entertainers. MIC of Colorado uses this approach extremely well and even brings in the mascot for the Colorado Convention Center to mingle with guests!

Wondering how to plan a destination meeting and agenda? These are just a few ideas to get you started. Happy planning!

The Colorado Convention Center's Blue Bear mascot makes an appearance at the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado Educational Conference & Trade Show. Photo by All Digital Photo & Video.

Top Photo: Welcome reception in Hotel Jerome’s courtyard during Destination Colorado’s 2020 Customer Appreciation Event. Courtesy Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

Beth Buehler is managing editor of the Meetings + Events publishing group for Tiger Oak Media and has served as editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 16 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.