Connect with a local tour operator
Meeting planners need to work with a local tour operator who has the expertise and knowledge to offer engaging tours for clients in that destination.
Before committing to one, especially in a large city centre with many options, it’s important to have an exploratory conversation with prospective operators. Listen to what they ask you – are they interested in your audience? What ideas are they offering you? How deep are they digging to find out the needs of the group? You want to look for a tour operator who pushes the envelope, and asks questions about what destinations the delegates have experienced in the past. You’ll get a sense of which operator best understands your needs, and can deliver a tour program tailored to your group’s interests.
Know your audience
It’s important to know your audience when developing a companion program, and to communicate those details to your chosen tour operator. The gender mix and age range can influence which activities are of interest.
I recently hosted a group of corporate business travel companions, who were almost all women in their 40s and 50s. With this information, I offered them our popular Hermetic Code Tour, along with time at a new Scandinavian-inspired spa, Thermëa by Nordik Spa-Nature. It was a really great combination of things for them to do in Winnipeg – they loved it!
When Winnipeg hosted the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in 2016, we created a shopping tour featuring IKEA and CF Polo Park shopping centre, knowing many of the companions would come from rural municipalities and not have these amenities. If the majority of the delegates were from Toronto this tour wouldn’t have made sense, but since we knew the audience, it worked.
Also, the nature of the conference can determine tour activities. For example, if the conference has a focus on nature and wildlife, then tours will be more successful when showcasing a destination’s outdoor attractions, such as Oak Hammock Marsh, FortWhyte Alive, or Journey to Churchill Arctic species exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg’s case.
You will hit a home run when you create a tour program to reflect the audience.
Find out what’s worked in the past and raise the bar
Look back at the tour programs offered in the past associated with the conference – what did the delegates and companions do, and what was the feedback? Take this information into consideration and be sure to share these details with your tour operator.
As a starting point, I always try to find information online about what tours were offered the previous year at a conference. As a smaller city, we’re up against giant tourism destinations, and our goal is always to outdo what was previously done and upgrade the experience.
Showcase what’s unique
This is a chance to make an impression by featuring the attractions and activities that delegates and companions can only experience in that particular destination.
When clients come to Winnipeg, I always try to steer tours in the direction of our one-of-a-kind experiences, such as the Hermetic Code Tour, Journey to Churchill and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I always get comments from groups about how pleasantly surprised they are about Winnipeg, and it’s due to these unique gems that set us apart.
Think outside the box
What might be an overlooked piece of infrastructure in one city, could be a fascinating tour opportunity given the right audience. One example would be the Red River Floodway in Winnipeg. This large-scale infrastructure project saved the city billions of dollars from flooding and is the second largest land excavation in the world next to the Panama Canal. For a conference group of engineers, this would be a unique tour of interest to them. Customization plays a huge role in creating stellar tours. Most tour groups explore the content of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, but when a group of city and municipal politicians came to town, the tour focus changed to reflect their areas of expertise, like the funding structure and construction process. In other words, work with a tour operator who can get creative and deliver the best possible tour for your group and showcase the destination.