Surprises Inside

How this week's PRSA Travel and Tourism Conference made a centerpiece into an interactive experience — and whetted participants’ appetites for next year’s event at the same time.

IMG_0133This week, I blew in and out of Houston for 16 hours to participate in a panel session during the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) 2016 Travel and Tourism Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel. As I — and the conference’s 300-plus attendees — filed into the ballroom for Tuesday’s Luncheon General Session, we found a three-gift-box-tier tied with ribbon serving as each table’s centerpiece.

Several of us wondered aloud what the Tiffany-blue boxes might signify or contain. We spent a few minutes talking over some possibilities, and then the luncheon got underway. Before the speaker, Travel Channel’s Brian Unger, took the stage, the volunteer conference organizers announced next year’s conference destination host, Greater Palm Springs, and we watched a short, fun video about this resort location. We were then invited to open the boxes.

We tore into them to find sunglasses in the smallest top box (Palm Springs has more than 350 days of sunshine), the pieces for a small puzzle in the second box, and local-to-Palm-Springs treats in the largest bottom box — wrapped packages of sweet Brandini Toffee, and little boxes of gourmet stuffed dates (Palm Springs is a date mecca). 

The first table to assemble the small puzzle — a hot-air balloon above palm trees in a cloudless, blue sky — got a small prize.IMG_0134

It was a fun, interactive way for the Greater Palm Springs CVB to generate excitement about the 2017 conference location, and simultaneously eliminated the need for expensive centerpieces.

These are travel and tourism professionals after all, so it’s not surprising that next year’s host destination was woven so well into the lunch program without leaving the current host city behind. When the 2016 conference program chair was presented with a specially commissioned piece of art created by a local Houston artist, it underscored again the value of making the local culture part of the participant experience.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.