Meetings & Conventions Little Things Mean a Lot June
Little Things Mean a Lot
Glitter fades, but thoughtful details? can
leave a lasting impression on incentive
By Lisa Grimaldi
Participants can fly with attitude in first class, live like
kings and queens in a five-star hotel, feast on elaborate meals,
party the nights away at wildly creative themed events and be put
on a pedestal at a gala awards dinner. But what will stand out in
their memories five years from now, after they have been to several
more of these ever-bigger, ever-better events? Will it be the
expensive bells and whistles, the program's splashy elements?
More likely, it will be that moment when incentive winners, hot
and exhausted after a long afternoon of sightseeing, got back to
their rooms and found their bathtub filled with bubbles and
orchids. Or the "gypsy" who wandered onto their bus and had the
group in stitches as she told their rather fantastical fortunes
(and made the two-hour transfer seem like 15 minutes). Or the funky
guidebook to Rome they found on their pillows the night before
their free day of touring.
Yes, it's the little things, as the syrupy '50s song goes, that
really mean a lot to winners. These touches usually do not require
a lot of money, just a bit of ingenuity and insight on the part of
the planner. (Some creative suggestions might come from hotel
contacts and other suppliers, too.) The following little extras,
garnered from seasoned incentive planners and suppliers, are sure
to have a big impact on programs and, most important, the incentive
DeparturesPrivate check-in: When all the participants
are departing from the same airport, set up a private check-in desk
for them. Arrangements can be made through the carrier's groups
department. However, the courtesy is extended by major U.S.
carriers only to groups flying domestically because of heightened
security concerns, according to Jennifer Brock, manager, incentive
sales, at American Airlines.Group rooms: Many airlines have these at their
major hubs and make them available to groups at the point of
departure, at no cost or for a nominal fee. Reservations should be
made through the carrier's groups department. The rooms at
Continental Airlines' Dallas and Newark hubs are free, and the
airline will provide free catering. American has one room at Dallas
and one at Chicago that are free; catering is extra. United
Airlines has one at Denver for which it charges $100, plus
catering. Delta Air Lines' rooms at Los Angeles, New York (JFK
International Airport), Tampa, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Cincinnati
and Portland, Ore., are free; catering is extra.Pre-boarding: When incentive winners are
traveling in coach, they still can feel important. Most carriers
will allow groups to board the aircraft before the other coach
passengers.Announcements: Inflight recognition ("United
Airlines welcomes XYZ Pharmaceuticals President's Club and extends
congratulations to all the winners") is another simple and
cost-free way to recognize participants. Most carriers accommodate
requests for inflight announcements or special greetings.
Typically, the planner makes the request through the groups
department, then provides the cabin crew with the information.
Inflight amenities: Most airlines allow
planners to distribute their own amenities, including food and
nonalcoholic beverages. American, for example, will have the flight
crew put amenities in participants' seat pockets prior to boarding,
according to Brock.
Get the royal treatment momentum going at the outset of the
Arriving at the airportNovel welcomes: Have a red carpet rolled out
in the airport, and arrange for a marching band or calypso band to
greet the group in the arrivals area, recommends Todd Vastine, vice
president, travel, of Arlington, Texas-based Galactic Marketing
Incentives Inc. Another meet-and-greet option is to employ actors
wearing costumes. Greg Kurdian, president of Sunbound/Bahama
Fantasies, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based DMC, says one of the most
memorable greetings he arranged involved ruler-wielding "nuns" who
ushered the participants onto yellow school buses, then handed out
cookies and little containers of milk.Enliven the drive: When participants fly in
and get rental cars to drive to their destinations (a popular
option for Arizona incentives, for example), give them welcome
packs and maps at the airport as well as a list of landmarks to
visit along the way. "It really breaks up a long ride and puts them
in celebration mode," says Garrett Ross, incentive sales manager at
Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Ariz.
Arriving at the propertyPrivate check-in: Arrange for an exclusive
check-in area to be set up at the hotel, so participants do not
have to wait on line at the main registration desk. Some properties
will send personnel to handle check-in en route from the airport to
the property, so participants can go straight to their rooms.
Pillows ready: When participants have flown
overnight to the destination, arrange for a special early check-in.
For the bleary-eyed, there is no worse start to a program than
being told they cannot go directly to their rooms. Planners should
ensure rooms will be ready immediately for sleepy participants,
even if it means booking them for the day prior to arrival.
In-roomSpecial messages: Leave messages on the hotel
phones or closed-circuit TV to welcome participants, to outline an
itinerary or as teasers: Instruct participants to bring their beach
bags and towels to breakfast, but do not tell them they will be
boarding a sailboat right after they eat, suggests Sunbound's
Kurdian.A wake-up surprise: Arrange to have baskets
with glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice and daily newspapers
left outside participants' rooms each morning.
Read all about it: As a heightened form of
recognition, create a daily newspaper filled with updates on the
program and profiles of winners. Or, on trips where customers and
sales representatives are together, profile the reps so their
clients get to know them better, says Galactic Marketing
Incentives' Vastine. Papers can be slipped under guest room doors
in the morning.Relaxation aids: Welcome weary participants
with a bubble bath, and, to complete the mood of relaxation, have
an iced bottle of champagne and glasses set up within easy reach of
the tub.Private happy hour: When folks are gearing up
to go to an event and are getting dressed, have trays of cocktails
and canapés delivered to the rooms.Sweet dreams: Have a delicious surprise
waiting for participants when they return to their rooms at the end
of the evening. Novel desserts (chocolate pianos, marzipan golf
courses), plates of minipastries or truffles, and after-dinner
drinks are nice touches that bring closure to an enjoyable day.
Another idea, courtesy of Sandi Cottrell, vice president of San
Diego-based PRA Destination Management, is to leave a note on
attendees' pillows inviting them to meet in the hotel's kitchen for
pre-bedtime cookies and milk.
ActivitiesStylish transfers: Buses are generic, and
limos are elegant but a bit old hat. There are more memorable ways
to transport participants from the property to an event, such as
boats, vintage cars, trains, helicopters, motorcycles, even hot-air
balloons. "Just remember, if you spend the extra money for unusual
transfers, all the participants should be comfortable, and everyone
should arrive at roughly the same time, or the effect will be
lost," says Andrea Michaels, president of Extraordinary Events, a
special-events firm based in Sherman Oaks, Calif.Road shows: When the transfer from point A to
point B is tediously long, entertain the troops with actors dressed
in costume who can give a bit of background on the area or an
attraction the group is visiting. For a Smith-Kline program in
Southern California, for example, Michaels hired actors to play
characters from Old California senorita, friar, conquistador to
tell the history of the San Juan Capistrano Mission en route to the
site. Another diversion for a boring bus ride: trivia contests.
They can be about the place, the culture, even the company
sponsoring the event.Time out: When heavy-duty sports or
team-building activities are part of a day's agenda, offer little
spa breaks for participants. They can get 15-minute massages or
facials as rewards.
Food and beverageMorning treats: Develop themes for group
breakfasts so the participants will have something to look forward
to every morning. Some ideas: Have a server dressed as Carmen
Miranda cutting up fruit for guests; have a coffee bar where the
server grinds a custom blend for each guest.Trivial pursuits: Trivia about the company or
even the winners can be printed on napkins for a cocktail event.
Framed: Instead of using written place cards
for seating, use framed photos of the participants, taken at the
beginning of the program, to let them know where to sit.
Custom finish: Make the end of the meal truly
special by serving everyone a different dessert. This concept works
well for small groups (under 50); for larger groups, serve a
different dessert to each guest at a table of 10 or 12. Encourage
swapping or sharing, so the chocoholic's nose doesn't get out of
joint when he gets a piece of cherry cheesecake and his neighbor
gets mud pie.
GiftsDestination tie-ins: "The best gifts tie in to
the destination and remind participants of the fun they had on that
program," says Jim Heston, president of New York City-based
Pillowgifts Worldwide. One gift that has universal appeal is
prestamped postcards that winners can send to jealous friends and
family back home. One planner even had a staff member designated as
the postcard writer/sender; all the guests had to do was supply her
with the names and addresses of those to whom they wanted to send
cards. A literary-minded idea comes from Laura Sayegh, incentive
planner for New York City-based Fox Liberty Network, who always
purchases "the nicest hardcover books that tell the history of the
town we are in. I always wrap the books and enclose a personal
handwritten note to each guest."Event tie-ins: Give gifts that relate to the
program's events. After a '50s party, Andrea Michaels handed out
T-Bird radios accompanied by handwritten "notes from Mom" with
whimsical messages, like "Why did you come home so late?" and "I
heard you were at the malt shop instead of doing your homework."
Says Michaels, "Everyone had a different note, and they compared
them the next morning."
It's all in the delivery
Planners can have the best intentions when it comes to choosing
great gifts and memorable treats, but if delivery of the amenities
goes awry, best intentions are not worth much.
The ideal time to make deliveries is when attendees are out of
their rooms. Let the hotel know the complete itinerary of the
program, including off-site activities, so the timing will be right
and guests won't cross paths with a gift-bearing bellman.
And then there's the do-it-yourself approach. Andrea Michaels,
president of Extraordinary Events, a special-events firm based in
Sherman Oaks, Calif., avoids passing the chore off to the hotel's
bell or housekeeping staff. "Take care of it yourself, or send a
staffer along with the bellman to ensure that each and every
participant gets his room gift," she says.
Another way to guarantee everyone gets a gift: Distribute them
to participants as they arrive at or depart from the night's event.
"That way, you know every winner has his gift in hand."
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