Quick Takes on Travel: Part VIII


The experiential marketing industry came to a skidding halt in the onset of the pandemic. Now, the very DNA of conferences, meetings, events and activations are being transformed. We turned to Christy Vaught, VP, Experiential Marketing & Production, to illustrate what that will look like, and why it could be a silver lining for destinations and travel brands. Read her quick takes below and click here for even more in-depth research, insights and webinars.

In the early days of the pandemic, how was it possible to pivot on a large-scale event?

We were getting ready for South by Southwest in Austin to unveil the next phase of Costa Rica’s sustainability messaging. We were going to feature a giant floral wall, and it was over $5,000 worth of flowers. Once the city of Austin canceled South by Southwest, I went to the florist and said, “How can we reimagine these flowers?” We went from this floral wall to making 15 dramatic centerpieces that we delivered to the governor of Texas, the mayor of Austin, South by Southwest organizers, and a few key journalists. We provided a bit of respite in this uneasy, unknowing time, and generated writeups and social posts.  

Once you were able to emerge from problem-solving mode, how did you begin to digest what was happening to the events industry?  

We started searching everywhere, and we sat in on every webinar that was available. But, to be completely honest, they didn’t really know the answers.  I took a step back and thought, I feel pretty confident in knowing what my clients are looking for and they need. How can we bring an experience into people’s homes? So we started creating at-home activations, which were really reimagined mailers. We were very mindful in how we curated them, to showcase that we’re thinking about journalists and influencers and to inspire them. We created a comfort box for St. Petersburg/Clearwater; we created a virtual book club for the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel; we created about six at-home activations for Costa Rica.  

How can destinations reach journalists who are unable to attend press trips?

We started thinking about not just bringing the destination into their homes, but also bringing in experts. We’re putting together 30- or 60-minute experiences where we’re interacting, talking about the attractions, and what’s happening right now. 

What are some health and safety elements that will become standard in your events?

We are working very closely with local health departments to figure out protocols. How to serve food, how to check people in, how to make sure everyone is safe. We will have brand ambassadors who understand  the protocols on every side – so for example, if there’s a photo booth, only the brand ambassador will be handling the touch screen. There are also opportunities, such as incorporate branding into hand-sanitizing stations to create another Instagrammable moment.

How do you anticipate the events industry evolving overall?

We will be able to bring back intimate, very targeted events, and we want to think very specifically about who is coming to these events. Because what is the goal? It’s getting people to book and go. We want to be mindful of how we’re spending money and reaching the right people. I’m excited about it. It’s a huge opportunity for us to target and personalize events to the market that our clients are trying to go after. It’s an opportunity for destinations and travel brands to look to new markets that they maybe haven’t looked at before.