Do You Still Have To 'Be There'?
A recent Virtual Edge Summit piggybacked on the "physical" conference of the Professional Convention Management Association and offered streaming video and interactivity for virtual delegates around the subject of incorporating virtual elements into meetings. In fact, virtual options are becoming commonplace at many meetings, though the trend remains in its infancy. One huge rationale for hybrid -- combining virtual and physical meetings -- is that it encourages attendance at the next "physical" meeting by whetting the appetites of virtual attendees.
But virtualness (virtuality?) does not have to be limited to meetings. It can come in handy in any manner of promotions -- including, yes, a wine tasting, which you would think the most "you had to be there" of all events. A good example: The Four Seasons Atlanta wanted to tap into the fan base of its Park 75 Lounge restaurant, especially those who like to come in and try new wines.
The hotel held a tweetup -- a virtual wine tasting focused around a Twitter feed last fall. Participants could be physically present or participate online. They were hosted by the restaurant manager; and a local radio personality named Frank Ski, a wine connoisseur.
Ski talked about the event on his show before and after it happened and, according to Marsha Middleton, the hotel's publicist, he was able to draw a large in-person audience of 60. He talked about his history with wine and his travels in search of good wine. The event was promoted through Twitter and Facebook and the majority of responses came through Ski's Twitter page. Participants had to RSVP in advance. Those at home had been able to buy wines in advance of the event.
Wines were paired with different courses and the physical event was priced at a nominal $18 per person. Over 100 participated "virtually" in Atlanta alone. They tweeted questions and Ski tweeted as he tasted. The evening did not wrap up until after 11, after which time whoever wanted to could continue to tweet.
The event picked up a tremendous amount of Twitter interaction and, says Middleton, "It took some of the intimidation out of going to the Park 75 Lounge to try wines. It created a comfort zone." The hotel plans to do a similar event around summer wines. Says Middleton, "We're trying to connect with people the best way they want to connect."
On Another Virtual Note: Social Buying For Travel
With "social buying" sites like Groupon hogging the headlines, a panel on social buying at the recent HSMAI (Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International) Digital Marketing Conference featured Doug Miller, vice president of new business initiatives for LivingSocial, another social buying site.
Miller said his site differed from others in allowing marketers to "tell their stories." He is also big on group purchase of travel. He said one hotel client in the Shenandoah Valley, a bed & breakfast, enjoyed a purchase of 1400 hotel rooms based on a LivingSocial (www.livingsocial.com) offer. Occupancy shot up from 30% to nearly full with the average age of guests declining markedly.
He also said a Hard Rock hotel doubled revenues by directing buyers to an agent who up sold rooms and amenities.
In answer to a question about whether social buying sites were simply "discounters," Miller said that was always a question but that "we have designed our site to create long term relationships between marketers and customers."
Hybrid events and social buying: two phenomena that demonstrate how marketers will be dealing with customers who may or may not go somewhere -- all depending on how well you paint the virtual picture. And even if they don't attend physically this time, there seems to be a better chance they'll show up in person next time.