It’s hard to believe that just one year ago, many of us were having our first Zoom meeting or perhaps registering for our very first virtual event. At that point, the concept of a virtual conference was a new and exciting “temporary” format, which during the height of the pandemic was a breath of fresh air complete with eager on-screen smiles against fun-filled virtual backgrounds.
Fast forward several months later – many felt Zoom fatigue and in some cases, virtual events began losing some of their original uniqueness and luster. Vaccinations were still not approved and with travel restrictions still in place, participating in a major event via Zoom began to raise questions of value, budget challenges and overall impact…
Reinventing A Virtual Conference – Ignite Travel for 2021 and Beyond
Last year, Travel Alliance Partners (TAP), a partnership of premier Tour Operators located across the United States and Canada, held the first travel industry event that shifted from a traditional live conference to a virtual conference. While the virtual event exceeded expectations, committing to another virtual conference in 2021 was unexpected, but necessary.
As TAP’s management company, Break the Ice Media worked with TAP to take on the challenge of reinventing its virtual TAP Dance to again ensure it offered the best value and exciting opportunities for suppliers that would strategically fit into navigating the world’s tumultuous times. Collaborate, motivate and innovate became the words that thoughtfully inspired us to reimagine the event format. TAP Dance was previously a three-day event focused on 25-minute appointments connecting DMOs and attractions to each TAP Tour Operator to learn about each other’s areas of expertise. In 2021 it transformed into the industry’s very first Travel Product Development Fest in April.
What’s a Travel Product Development Fest?
On the first day of the conference, DMOs and attractions met with one TAP Partner to develop a new or improved tour product (not just handing off an itinerary, which was done in past) that would be sold by TAP, included on tapintotravel.com and promoted to TAP’s network of Travel Buyers. The original conference format of group meetings focused on Partner business and hearing what’s new at each destination or attraction remained for Day 2 and Day 3 featured webinar-style product presentations to TAP’s audience of Travel Buyers.
How did we reach reinvention? Here are four points to keep in mind to ensure your next virtual event makes an impact.
1. Think Deeply About the Problem that Needs to Be Solved for Event Attendees
Everyone in the TAP network needed travelers. Tour Operators needed departures, DMOs and suppliers needed visitors and travel buyers needed clients. With travel at a halt, what could we do get more travelers? We identified our audience’s immediate need to “get ready to be ready.” This meant going beyond bringing like-minded audiences together for a typical TAP Dance, but instead, rolling out a new collection of travel products under the Ignite Travel Collection. A collection of tours designed to get everyone traveling again with inspiring tours – whether off-the-beaten path or bucket list trips.
2. Find the Thread that Ties Everyone Together
Between tours no longer running, budget cutbacks and furloughed staff, we recognized that the need for collaboration with other industry professionals was more important than ever to grow business. In fact, our recent Collaboration Impact Study revealed 90% of study respondents say collaborations will get the travel, tourism & hospitality industry out of this challenge and help the industry survive and thrive.
People still longed for a sense of connection, to keep critical relationships going (or in some cases meet newcomers) and share not only current struggles but learn how to lean into one another to move forward. “Rebuilding together” was the common thread that connected the TAP network, and TAP Dance was a way for the group to stay committed, motivated and supportive. There was light at the end of the pandemic tunnel and once it was able to be reached, pent up demand for travel would soar and this group would be ready.
3. Keep it Light-Hearted
Because moments of casual interaction that would take place during live conferences (such as connecting during meals or in hospitality suites) are typically event highlights, it’s important to plan time for attendees to relax as a group.
- Each morning, we kicked off the conference with motivational music and ended the day with a happy hour for casual networking, where attendees could jump between virtual rooms on their own time.
- We also incorporated a lobster roll and cocktail cooking demonstration. Attendees received a list of ingredients ahead of time to purchase prior to the event, which offered additional at-home interaction. Then one lucky attendee won a lobster dinner giveaway!
- Attendees snapped creative photos in a virtual photo booth. Spouses, pets and babies even made the photo collection and later shared on social channels.
- Gamification amplified the message on Day 3, when Travel Buyers came in for the Ignite Travel Collection presentations. To encourage registration and participation across 18 webinars, Travel Buyers had the chance to “text to win” a special code for each presentation to gain entries for an AMA Waterways Cruise for two giveaway.
4. Inspire Long-Term Connectivity
To keep the momentum going after the virtual conference, consider regularly hosting themed happy hour events to casually check in with the group. We also recommend taking advantage of connecting with contacts on social media. Take the time to comment on their posts or send them message to remain top of mind.