Feed Me Friday: Eventbrite Explores the Future of Food and Drink Events

people_toasting“The transformation that we’re seeing is that people aren’t just demanding better stuff, they want to understand it, and be part of creating it. To the point where people are paying considerably more in order to butcher their own pig or brew their own beer – things that in centuries past would have been money-saving tactics are now highly artisanal experiences that people can’t get enough of.”

—Wilf Horsfall, co-founder of UBREW

Wilf Horsfall is co-founder of an “open brewery,” UBREW, in London,  where customers can brew their own beer on professional equipment (as well as take classes). Earlier this week, the online event registration company Eventbrite — according to its blog — conducted an early-morning discussion in London’s West End on the future of food and drink events, then invited culinary thought leaders to weigh in virtually. (The live event was part of Eventbrite Summer School, “a series of morning classes running throughout July to inspire the capital’s early risers to learn something new before work.”)

Horsfall’s thoughts on DIY victuals were joined by endorsements of street food, popup dinners, backstory, and “luxury events co-existing with much cheaper but equally fun ones,” (from Dan Calladine of London Pop-ups) as fixtures of our future food and drink landscape. “People are looking for food and drink events that bring together the full narrative of the food and drink they enjoy,” added Andrew Birkby of Wildcard Brewery. “It is no longer just about eating and drinking, but about being immersed in how and why our favourite food and drink is made to be the way it is.”

Read the musings the event wrap-up site on Eventbrite for some quirky British inspiration.

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Sell Your Meeting Like It’s 2019 (Not 1999)

Hand schiebt Stein in LinieDisruption. It’s a term used liberally these days in almost every industry, from video (Netflix) to transport (Uber) to fast food (Chipotle). It’s also upending the world of destination marketers, aka DMOs, who heard all about shaking it up during the 101st annual convention of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) in Austin last week.

“Our industry is going faster than it ever has before. It will never go this slowly again,” said Greg Klassen, a veteran travel and tourism industry strategist, as well as principal of consultancy Twenty31, during a breakout session. “If you want to lament disruption in the tourism industry, know that it’s the reason our industry is growing so quickly.”

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Greg Klassen

Quickly, indeed. The tourism sector is predicted to outpace overall U.S. economic growth in the next decade (4.4 versus 2.3 percent annually, according to new figures from the World Travel & Tourism Council). And with that growth comes an ever-growing roster of players: Wayblazer, Airbnb, and Couchsurfing, to name a few.

While it took the world 1,000 years of tourism to reach one billion travelers, said Klassen, “It will take only 19 more to reach two billion” — a tide of mostly hyperconnected, savvy travelers (and attendees) who consider where and when to travel, as well as how often, in ever-evolving, digitally based ways.

Klassen was just one of a handful of DMAI presenters who focused on disruptive forces in tourism, but his message of “risk equals reward” offers lessons for event marketers looking to distinguish their meetings and incite people to attend.

Use your brains, rather than a huge marketing budget.

Rather than pursue a billboard or “one more one-page ad,” said Klassen,”market like it’s 2019, not 1999,” said Klassen, who has worked extensively with the Canadian Tourism Commission. “Understand precisely the type of customer you need to go after.” Then, target them on social media, via video content or alignment with lifestyle brands, and through personalization of big data. The goal: To move away from focusing on brand awareness and toward an traveler/attendee’s consideration phase. “They don’t need us [DMOs] anymore unless we assert ourselves in a different way,” said Klassen. “Embrace these new tools.”

Consider previous visitors (or attendees) as part of your sales team.

Did attendees leave your last meeting energized and inspired? Then they can speak for your brand, via social media and word of mouth, more powerfully than sometimes “myopic” ad agencies, said Klassen. “Those millions and millions of people who visit destinations are your sales force of the future,” he said, so follow their digital footprints to know their behaviors and keep them engaged.

Find your local and authentic side, and promote the heck out of it (online).

Millennial travelers and attendees will dominate the marketplace by 2030, and they gravitate toward “bespoke, boutique, and curated experiences,” said Klassen. He broke these these down into three types: Boulders, or the physical, iconic tenets of a destination or meeting (think the New York City skyline); rocks, or the complementary experiences (a Broadway show); and pebbles — the subtle but distinctive experiences, such as a unique bakery (selling cronuts, maybe), that communicate authenticity. “Understand the unique selling points of your brand,” said Klassen, “and understand how to deliver them.”

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Feed Me Friday: Will Travel For Food

pueblo_viejo_twoWhen it comes to deciding whether or not to attend a meeting, a “remarkable” 82 percent of potential attendees factor the destination into their decision. And between one-quarter and one-third report that the destination is the key determinant.

And food and drink remains a key cornerstone of a destination’s identity. “The foodies are still out there,” said Mickey Schaefer, veteran of destination marketing, principal of her own consulting company, and CEO and founder of The Experience Institute, as she co-presented the findings of the “Decision To Attend Study for Conventions and Exhibitions” at DMAI’s annual convention in Austin this week.

When Schaefer asked those in the room if they still considered food to be a powerful draw, many nodded. “I see culinary over your websites,” said Schaefer. “It’s amazing how many people are into this.”

As we filed out the session toward the evening’s receptions and dinners, most of us would not want for a decent meal. From tacos to barbecue, Austin is a culinary Eden, and the city has plied DMAI attendees with iconic local food and drink, from brisket to Tito’s Vodka cocktails.

While the decision to attend DMAI was not mine (it was my editor’s), I was thrilled to visit Austin again for its good eats. Would I return at my own expense, for another meeting or even a vacation? In a heartbeat. Specifically, I would return for tacos: Breakfast tacos.

I’ve had one each day of my trip — in Houston airport, in a downtown café. But I knew food trucks would have the very best. And since food trucks have been curiously absent from the perimeter of the Austin Convention Center, this morning I wandered up Sixth Street, underneath the I-35 overpass, and to the edge of East Austin to hit the Pueblo Viejo food truck, on one edge of a shady lot with a hodgepodge of tables.

taco1All kinds of diners were waiting patiently for their $3 breakfast tacos, from a young professional in heels to a pair of paint-splattered laborers. When mine finally arrived — stuffed with silky eggs, fresh tomatoes, and hunks of avocado, then smothered with salsa and hot sauce — I was in heaven. But first, I shot a photo. My taco, as well as the truck, made it onto Instagram, into this post, and solidly into my memory.  Such is the power of a tiny dish — even a cheap, tasty, but unphotogenic one — to make us remember a place, and choose to return.

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The ‘Waning Attention Span’ Challenge

Photo by Amar Pai.

Photo by Amar Pai.

All of us here at Convene are focused on the launch of our new website in a few short weeks. One of the features of our site is easier-to-consume versions of our magazine content, and that’s a good thing. We tend to skim content online, wanting to get what we need quickly from a story and move on.

Yet a hallmark of Convene is the depth with which we explore issues and topics related to the meetings industry. That’s not going to go away, because it’s important to have both — the ability to get quick takeaways as well as the opportunity to read about a topic more fully if you choose.

The value of investing the time to fully understand a subject was reinforced for me when I read a short interview with the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review. When Burns was asked if he feels pressure to make his films shorter in “this age of waning attention spans,” here was his response:

When The Civil War came out, in 1990, MTV had popularized a style of fast-paced video, with lots of cuts and action. Critics said no one would watch my film, but it got huge ratings. When The War came out, in 2007, there were no longer just 15 channels but 515, and critics were certain no one would watch it. They were wrong. And in 2014 The Roosevelts drew more viewers than Downton Abbey.

There’s a deluge of information in the world, but very little understanding of it. We all know what it’s like to browse the Huffington Post and not remember any of it 20 minutes later. Sustained attention is what makes companies work well and art work well, and it’s what all human beings crave no matter how distracted they are. Meaning accrues in duration.

The challenge of shorter attention spans is not going to go away, and it’s something you as a meeting professional deal with when crafting your conference programs. What makes us want to spend the time to watch a Ken Burns documentary is obviously the quality of the film and the richness of the experience — something we’ll continue to aim for in Convene and the goal of every meeting professional.

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Job Prospects for Hospitality Grads

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Finding a job is no piece of cake.

Last week, a recent graduate of the New York Institute of Technology, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management, emailed me to ask if I could share any contacts with potential employers. In the past month and a half, she told me, she has been on 15 job interviews and hasn’t yet received an offer.

My heart goes out to her. It’s a tough job market for graduates pursuing many professions. According to a recent article in Newsweek, an estimated 2.8 million university graduates entered the U.S. workforce within the past few months, with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees — just as the country’s unemployment rate hit its lowest level in nearly seven years. “Cause for a celebration, right?” the article reads. “Not so fast.”

The unfortunate reality is that the millennial generation still lags behind in the job market — making up about 40 percent of America’s unemployed. As of May, data showed that nearly 14 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are out of work — more than double the national jobless rate of 5.4 percent.

Here is some good news: San Diego State University’s (SDSU) School of Hospitality & Tourism Management is bucking that trend.  The School has successfully placed 100 percent of its undergraduates —132 — in jobs this year.

How do they do it? Director Carl Winston and his team have been sticklers for screening their students for the program and mentoring their progress throughout. That, combined with a strong commitment to collaborate with industry players — some of them alumni — has resulted in their grads finding gainful employment.

Internships have been key to this program’s success, Winston said. “We encourage students to find an internship during their senior year that aligns with the area of the industry they hope to work in post-graduation,” he told Convene. The curriculum is structured so that the students have the ability to work at their internships three days a week. The ultimate goal is for graduates to be offered full-time positions at the organizations where they have interned.

Hotel companies hire many of the students, and Winston said he is particularly pleased when a graduate in the meetings area (about 50 percent of the student body) is hired to work in the “third-party meeting-planning space.” That’s because, while his background is in hotels, restaurants, and theme parks, he “fell in love with the meetings profession along the way.”

Kudos on sharing that love, Carl. And here’s to other hospitality schools learning from your model.

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Feed Me Friday: CNTV’s Jacky Herrera Appears on NBC’s “Food Fighters”

jacky_herreraViewers of Convention News Television are probably familiar with reporter (and client content manager) Jacky Herrera’s effervescent broadcasts. Last week, NBC viewers got to see Herrera in action, too — this time, cooking up her signature cheese enchiladas and trash-talking professional chefs on the debut episode of the second season of “Food Fighters,” a show which pits ambitious home cooks against professional chefs in a live-action showdown.

“I grew up the youngest daughter of a really big Mexican family, and cooking was one of the ways I stood out,” she tells host Adam Richman, explaining that her mom taught her everything she knows about cooking as she grew up in El Paso, Texas. “I really just want to make her proud.”

And also, well, win $100,000 if she prevailed in all five rounds. With the big bucks at stake, Herrera turned fiery. “You are going down!” she hollers at chef Ray Lampe, aka “Dr. BBQ,” as they scramble around their respective stations in round one.

So how did it all turn out? You’ll have to watch the episode, called “I’m Bringing The Spice,” to find out.

Herrera was thrilled that she was chosen to appear on the show, which was filmed last fall in Los Angeles. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Herrera told Convene by phone from Orlando, where she lives. “It was challenging, emotionally and physically, and it really forced me to look inside to make sure that I was confident to make these dishes against these chefs.”

For several excruciating months, Herrera and her family had to stay mum about the outcome. Spoiler alert: Herrera does not walk away empty-handed. What does she plan to do with the winnings? “I want to treat my parents to a nice trip,” said Herrera. “I’m one of six children, and I just feel that I’d like to give back to my parents. They basically donated their whole lives to us kids. And our family was so big it was really hard to take family trips every year.”

Despite the cash in hand, Herrera said the “Food Fighters” experience also gave her some personal capital. “If an opportunity presents itself, it’s essential to go after it,” said Herrera, admitting she was nervous about appearing. “I thought about not doing it, but I’m so glad I did. It taught me so much, and NBC was outstanding to work with. I’m a competitor at heart!”

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Who Is Tomorrow’s Attendee?

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Our July cover story explored the modern convention center, which puts a premium on comfort, connectivity, and flexibility, at the same time giving attendees a stronger sense of connection to the destination.

Convention-center designers are changing with the times: The next generation of convention-goers isn’t content to sit quietly and observe.

Every segment of the market is grappling with dramatically different behavioral patterns from the next generation, Todd Voth, a senior principal at Populous, said in a talk he delivered at the 2014 Airport Consultants Council/American Association of Airport Executives Airport Planning, Design, and Construction Symposium in Denver.

Those consumers, Voth said, are a group who:
1. Demand authenticity and aren’t afraid to share their opinions with their vast network of contacts.

2. Are intrigued by early adoption of new forms of technology and social tools.

3. Are responsive to experiential marketing in lieu of traditional advertising.

4. Are unwilling to be bystanders, and instead desire the opportunity to participate in the creation of new experiences. 

5. Seek fun and adventure.

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Six Days in Singapore

I’ve got just a few hours before I board my flight home from a week-long part fam/part conference trip in Singapore and I can’t stop drinking in this view from my room on the 47th floor of the Marina Bay Sands.

IMG_2797It’s an awe-inspiring vista, for sure. But what boggles the mind is that this futuristic hotel— three 55-story towers connected by a rooftop sky terrace containing the world’s largest/highest infinity pool — is built on reclaimed land. As is the lotus-flower-inspired ArtScience Museum (on the right) and adjacent urban-park wonderland Gardens by the Bay. This all used to be open sea.

It’s my first time in Southeast Asia and it seems that I’ve chosen my transition to this part of the world well. Singapore, I’ve learned, is “Asia Lite” — a mix of Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian communities with a decidedly Western business sensibility. It’s easy for meeting delegates from North America and other corners of the world to feel welcome here and to navigate this city/country/island and its variety of impressive, state-of-the-art convention spaces. What’s a challenge is wrapping your head around the incredible sense of innovation and forward thinking that permeates this place. That makes me think Singapore is an inspirational conference destination, in the truest sense of the word.

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Show and Tell at xplore

IMG_2586“Show, don’t tell” is one of the central tenets of good writing, but good meetings and conferences do a little bit of each, as The Expo Group demonstrated at its xplore mini seminar for meeting professionals last week. Expo Group’s genius touch with xplore was to tie a half-day conference program at the Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, to an actual show it was producing — the GEOINT 2015 Symposium, presented by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), just across the street at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Continue reading

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Eat Everything On Your Plate — And Then Eat That, Too

bluewareRendering every part of a meal edible is nothing new; it’s the concept behind lettuce wraps, waffle cones, and tortilla salads. Yet what if part of your lunch was disguised as the bowl you’re eating it from? That’s the concept behind edible serviceware, a trending category in Japan,  South Africa (where one can find “edible, crisp wheat bowls”) and now the United States, where a company called Biosphere Technology hopes edible plates and bowls will become a fixture at sustainably minded meetings.

At the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago in May, the company unveiled a U.S.-made, highly compostable range of plates, bowls, and bakeware made from food-grade starch ingredients and renewable plant fibers called blueware. The pastel-colored serviceware is freezer-, oven- and microwave-safe, and will break down within 40 days in home compost bins, 10 days in commercial compost facilities, and 21 days in water (as opposed to three years for regular plates). “Our vision is to provide zero waste to landfills,” said Mindy Agnew, director of business development for Biosphere Technology, when I interviewed her for our July article on reducing food waste at meetings (which will be online and in print next week).

Agnew was kind enough to send me some blueware samples. While the plates are not yet edible — “We have not gone through the formal process for over 100 of our designs to get them all individually qualified by the FDA as edible,” said Agnew — the bowls are. Yesterday, I took them out for a test run — which included downing a bowl as part of my dessert.

First, I loaded one of the non-edible plates with a drippy Caprese salad. The blueware plate was much firmer than the average paper plate, with graceful, decorative circles along its rim that a visual person can appreciate. No bending or spillage here, and even after letting the oil and vinegar pool for awhile on top, there was zero seepage through to the bottom of the plate. Win!

blueware_dish

blueware_ice_creamNext, I served up some vanilla coconut-milk ice cream in one of the edible blueware bowls, which resemble terra-cotta cups. To the touch, they have a brushed cardboard consistency, and smell faintly of chocolate.

After I downed the ice cream, I took an tentative bite. The cup itself had the texture of a super-firm but stale Communion wafer blended with cardboard, and made a satisfying ripping noise as I bit into it. The flavor: Faintly sweet and waffle-cone-esque, with undertones of Nilla Wafer and cocoa. It wasn’t unpleasant at all, and in fact kind of tasty — texture notwithstanding. The bowl felt like part of my desert, albeit in a futuristic, Fifth Element kind of way. I have no idea how many calories it contained.

It’s fun to think that manufacturers of edible plates and bowls might keep finessing flavor, adding in hints of lemon, chili, or even bacon. In the meantime, blueware is a promising start in a cool new category.

blueware_two_bites

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