Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio October 2002 Current Issue
October 2002 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM


How incorporating local culture can enrich the meeting experience

One of the best ways to add richness to a meeting is to infuse it with elements from your chosen destination. The key is to blend the cultural elements into your marketing strategy with a prime focus on purpose, subtlety and timing.

Whether in Rome or Los Angeles, local customs also add structure and unification to a gathering. Some destinations, such as Hawaii, are literally built on culture, and it is a waste of resources to ignore these traditions.

Don’t just toss a local tradition into your meeting without a little research. A Japanese tea ritual or a London high tea might go over well at a board meeting or perhaps not. Consider first if the ritual will support and reflect the event’s goals and objectives. With a distinct tie-in, the experience will positively impact the results of the meeting, and your extra efforts will be historically memorable rather than potentially infamous.

Introduce the culture by priming your participants in advance; then drive the message during the meeting, and reinforce what was learned. Pre- and post-event cultural links can include direct-mail pieces, tie-ins on your Web site, voice-mail messages with local music, and culturally inspired giveaways.

These teasers and reminders reinforce the program’s goals and objectives as well as piquing interest and building momentum.

Hawaiian Airlines has this holistic cultural approach down to a science. Travelers are immersed with cultural music and programs on their flights to and from the islands; a desire to return is instilled by offering a sense of nostalgia on the flight home. If you charter your own flights, consider showing videos about the place. These also can be played during transfers in vans and limos.

Again using Hawaii as an example, Kimo Jenkins of Island Partners Hawaii expertly infuses island culture into meetings. Jenkins’ business emphasizes ohana, or the islands’ family oriented way of life, using metaphors that relate to both corporate and Hawaiian cultures and values for instance, comparing the mutual support inherent in the family structure to the corporate structure.

Jenkins warns that planners should exercise sensitivity in choosing how to meld a local tradition or icon into meetings. He cites the example of a CEO who wanted to dress as a royal Hawaiian warrior for an opening reception. Jenkins felt this approach might insult the locals and would be an inaccurate representation of the sacred position of Hawaiian leaders. Jenkins recommended the CEO dress as an American castaway. The result provided more flexibility to leverage the meeting’s objectives.

Take advantage of festivals and events going on during your meeting dates. Beyond Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, there are hundreds of events around the world to tie into yours, such as the Edinburgh (Scotland) International Festival in August and Finland’s summer-ending Helsinki Festival.

Strive to make the cultural elements and customs you choose interesting and varied. Start slow and add surprising, unexpected layers to create a more meaningful experience.

For example, the first night on Kauai could start with a pillow gift wrapped in the “ti” leaf, which was used to wrap offerings to the fire goddess Pele. Each day a new element can be introduced, and by the climactic hapa hou (“celebration, rejoicing”) reception, your guests will be exchanging Hawaiian phrases.

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