HOW TO ENCOURAGE DELEGATES TO LINGER LONGER?

COMBINING BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE

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By Rob Davidson

For many of them, the conference trip may be their one-and-only opportunity to visit that destination.

Ideas for post- / pre- conference leisure packages at the destination should be sent out with the original invitation to attend the conference itself. The potential delegate will then have the time to consider the possibility of extending their trip, and discuss the project with their spouses and employers.

Making the most of such visitors means doing whatever we can to persuade them to arrive a few days early, and/or to stay for a few extra days after the business element of their trip, to enjoy some of the many cultural, sightseeing and shopping opportunities that South East Europe has to offer.

When conference visitors do extend their trips to combine business with pleasure, we call them ‘business extenders’.

One key to success in encouraging these ‘business extenders’ is partnership. DMCs (destination management companies) must work closely with hotels, transport companies, tourist attractions and cultural venues, to produce interesting leisure ‘packages’ that can be promoted as pre- / post- conference experiences for visiting conference delegates.

Those who attend conferences are generally busy people who don’t always have the time to do the research required to construct their own mini-holiday packages when they are planning a business trip. So they welcome all efforts to make it as easy as possible for them to spend some extra days enjoying the attractions of the places they are visiting.

Conference organisers can also be a powerful influence, in getting their delegates to extend their trips. They can actively promote pre- and post-conference packages on their conference website or in the literature they send to delegates.

In the case of association events in particular, it is usually in the organisers’ own interest to do this, as it can be the tourist attractions of the conference destination that play a vital part in convincing the potential delegate to attend the event. Tourist Boards or Convention Bureaux have an essential strategic role in getting all of the local partners to work together in order to make the effort to persuade business visitors to stay longer.

Those who attend conferences are generally busy people who don’t always have the time to do the research required to construct their own mini-holiday packages when they are planning a business trip.

Another key to success is starting early. It is essential to promote the idea of extending conference trips for leisure purposes at the earliest stage – when the potential delegate is making their travel arrangements, well ahead of attending the event itself. A brochure describing the local attractions and leisure opportunities and left for the delegate in the hotel room when they arrive at the conference destination, is far too little, far too late. By the time the delegate arrives in the destination, they will already have made their return travel arrangements and will be expected back at work and back at home, by a certain date.

Ideas for post- / pre- conference leisure packages at the destination should be sent out with the original invitation to attend the conference itself. The potential delegate will then have the time to consider the possibility of extending their trip, and discuss the project with their spouses and employers. Moreover, their spouse may even decide to accompany them – adding to the spending at the destination.

In the case of association events in particular, it is usually in the organisers’ own interest to do this, as it can be the tourist attractions of the conference destination that play a vital part in convincing the potential delegate to attend the event.

Convention Bureaux can play a useful role here too. When they know that, one year later, a major international association is coming to their city for its annual conference, one or two members of the Convention Bureau staff should attend that association’s conference the previous year, wherever it is being held in the world. They can set up a tourist information desk in the conference foyer to distribute brochures and promote the attractions of their destination, to give delegates ideas on how they might make a holiday out of their conference visit the following year.

Actions like these can be very effective in turning business visitors into leisure visitors, with benefits to all. And the people who benefit most are the conference delegates themselves, who will enjoy taking the time to relax and explore the destination’s attractions and culture, instead of just flying in and flying out of the city, without taking the time to really experience it.

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