More marketing professionals are seeing the value of in-person brand experiences, as a recent Freeman study demonstrated, and a prime example of that took place in May.

That was when Design Hotels launched an innovative meetings and events marketing strategy with an inaugural Co-LAB MICE Edition event at the Almyra hotel in Paphos, Cyprus.

The four-day event was purely focused on the types of meetings and events experiences that planners can create at various Design Hotels, and was created to engage hoteliers and hosted planners in integrated brand experiences and one-on-one meetings.

Instead of the typical large meetings industry trade show or conference such as IMEX, Meeting Professionals International, World Education Congress, or the Professional Convention Management Association’s Convene, the meeting was designed to be both intimate and incredibly immersive for attendees.

“The last couple of years have shown that larger travel trade fairs do not always provide the ideal surroundings for our clients to experience our brand in a memorable, emotional way, which is important for relationship building,” said Henning A. Schaub,
head of travel trade relations for Design Hotels.

Schaub, who has been with the company for more than five years, formerly oversaw sales for the Western European market for the group. Design Hotels created the new position to redefine the way brand interacts with its clients, hotels, and consumers. Design Hotels thus launched the Co-LAB event to reinvent the company’s approach to meetings and events travel. Schaub took over the position in January 2017.

“I find it quite exceptional that one full headcount out of the salesforce is dedicated to reengaging the way the whole company is approaching sales, and respectively present our member hotels in front of the travel industry,” Schaub said.

Schaub said that one of the founding values of Design Hotels is creating communities, and to connect and bond over shared experiences. He added that because of its hotel portfolio, Design Hotels has many stories to tell, and the stories are better told over a locally sourced meal, or exploring the area around the hotels rather than in a conference hall.

“This was the impetus for the creation of our own MICE [meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions] platform,” Schaub said, “and it is important also to our hotels in order to determine which segment of clients they would like to meet at which platform.”

Twenty-five member hoteliers representing 65 properties in 42 destinations took part in the inaugural event. To provide personalized connections and an overarching brand experience among each independent property, the event had a nearly one-to-one ratio of hoteliers (25) to hosted buyers (27).

Hoteliers represented properties from London, Paris, Barcelona, Vienna, Berlin, Georgia and Rotterdam. Two of six New York City-based hotels were represented: The Crosby Street Hotel and the newly opened Whitby Hotel. All selected hotels cater to the group and incentive travel markets, and their ability to serve that segment was crucial for them to participate.

Design Hotels represents more than 270 independent hotels in 53 countries worldwide. The German-based company’s roots are strong in Europe, where nearly 70 percent of the hotels are located. Currently, 17 percent of its hotels are in the U.S.

The hosted meeting planners were predominantly from the UK and German-speaking markets, which are typically strong for the hotel group, but Italy, Benelux, France, Scandinavia, and Hungary were also represented.

In choosing the list of invitees, Schaub said that he looked for a good mix of senior representatives who had a proven interest or a business record with lifestyle-oriented boutique properties. Design Hotels valued a genuine interest in the brand and its story as much as a long-standing relationship.

The brand didn’t invite American meeting planners, although Schaub said it usually does so for its events, including those outside the U.S.

“We were really looking to detect those industry professionals that understand what we do. And more so, obviously also serve those clients who appreciate and can afford our hotels,” Schaub said.

One of the experiences available to participants was a transfer on a local fisherman’s boat. The captain, using all locally sourced food and wine, prepared lunch, and local musicians performed. A local family owned ice cream truck appeared after a formal lunch. It pulled up playing whimsical music and offered everyone a soft ice cream.

“You should have seen the infantile and happy smiles on the faces of some grown adults,” Schaub said.

“We talk about and show the brand DNA without necessarily speaking about it. This is not only the core of our brand, but also of how we select our member hotels and expand our portfolio.”

Throughout the event, attendees received limited edition mementos, such as hand-picked spearmint tea and spices, and an exclusive facial oil made from local herbs collected by monks in the Cypriot mountains. And even seemingly subtle elements, down to lighting, music, and the timing of program elements, were heavily considered and designed to create a specific ambiance.

“Basically, we looked into every detail, making sure that participants took the most authentic experience home. Everyone appreciates a fine dining menu, but enjoying an open fire barbecue, barefoot at the beach with a great bunch of people and saltwater on your skin – that is something you may never forget,” Schaub said.

While Design Hotels focused the event on meetings and events clients, Schaub said that it’s difficult to identify what percentage of the group’s total business is business-to-business versus the leisure market because that percentage differs drastically depending on the hotel and location. He did say that about two-thirds of its member hotels are relevant to and interested in meetings and events business.

“In general, the MICE market has always been an interesting one for the majority of our properties, and it is important for us to keep looking for new ways to approach it,” said Schaub.

In addition to unique brand experiences, the event was built to foster personal relationships. The majority of the program included shared meals, activities and parties, but buyers and hoteliers each had slots to meet one-on-one to discuss individual needs, as well as brainstorm on how best to collaborate to serve mutual clients in the future.

Schaub reported that the hoteliers were pleased with the opportunity to build personal relationships with clients over such a short period of time. As a result of the event, two London properties received group bookings, and Schaub expects more bookings to follow.

“Be true to yourself and who you are – as a corporation and as personalities,” Schaub said. “If an opera lover is dragged to a heavy metal concert, chances are that they will have a memorable experience, but not in the best possible way. By thoroughly curating the programming of our events, we strive to provide experiences that are genuine and true, and that reflect our values. This is what will be remembered.”

Photo Credit: To give meeting planners a firsthand look at what it would be like to host a meeting or event at a Design Hotels property, the company invited planners on a multi-day brand experience in Cyprus. Design Hotels