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Drive-To Event Destinations Can Be a Safer Bet in Uncertain Times

By Visit Baltimore

Amid the uncertainty of air travel, road-accessible regional locales may make the most sense for hosting in-person events.

Credits: Jason Varney

The American market is on a trajectory of recovery, but it may be a while before companies are ready to send delegates on flights to high-traffic hubs. In fact, a recent survey by EventMB found that 52 percent of respondents anticipate that the first in-person events they plan will be smaller, and just over a quarter anticipate a local comeback first.

When it comes to sourcing destinations, the uncertainty around travel amounts to a risk on the part of both event organizers and attendees. The solution, however, could be just down the road — literally.

“Charm City” is centrally located on the U.S. East Coast, and it is easily accessible by vehicle. Event planners who feel nervous about asking people to take flights in the latter half of the year might prefer to bank on a closer destination well-connected by roads, highways and interstates.

To dig into how road accessibility impacts a destination's appeal, we spoke with Melissa Cherry, the chief operating officer for Destinations International, an international trade association for CVBs and tourism operators. Destinations International has chosen to host their upcoming 2021 Annual Convention hybrid event in Baltimore.

 

A Destination for Drivers

For some companies, air travel continues to be a nerve-wracking option when it comes to sending employees to onsite events. "Covid saw a lot of airlift changes -- delays, suspensions -- and now you're starting to see airlines shifting into different markets, and I don't really think that's settled yet." On the contrary, travel by road remains a relatively safe and reliable option amid apprehensions and evolving restrictions around flying.

One of the key advantages of a road-accessible destination is the disposition on the part of attendees to drive rather than using other forms of public transportation, which directly reduces the risk of transmission in getting to your event in the first place.

It's also simply a lot more convenient.

"An East Coast destination like Baltimore is accessible to a large base that runs from New York down to Philadelphia, and from Delaware down to the Southeast, so there's an accessibility there. We know that there's going to be drive attendance, and that it’s easy for attendees to come in for a day."

- Melissa Cherry, Chief Operating Officer, Destinations International

 

For perspective, New York City is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Baltimore if you take the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95 South. Philadelphia is a two-hour drive down I-95, and Washington D.C. is an hour away by car. Baltimore’s location means it’s within an overnight drive of a third of the U.S. population.

The convenience of a road-accessible destination also impacts another major turnout factor: the decision window. Not having to buy a plane ticket allows attendees to make shorter-term decisions, which is crucial coming out of a pandemic where uncertainty is par for the course. A lot of attendees want to wait until the last minute to make a plan, or they feel hesitant to buy a plane ticket and book a trip months out.

“One of the things that we've seen in the implementation of virtual events is a peak in new registrations much closer to the actual event date," says Cherry. This level of convenience translates to onsite events when hosted at a drivable destination like Baltimore.

"Even though our room block ended in mid-June, they're still honoring our rate, so that's allowing people who are closer to make last minute decisions to attend the event, which is likely to help the onsite attendance improve as we near the event.”

- Melissa Cherry, Chief Operating Officer, Destinations International

 

Credits: Justin Tsucalas

 

Affordable Access Means Elevated Experiences

For event organizers, traveling from a large Eastern Seaboard city to a regional destination like Baltimore keeps travel costs relatively low compared to having employees travel by plane across the country.

"Picking a drivable destination makes it a lot easier to do site visits, which was a huge help during the pandemic as we didn't know what the safety guidelines were going to be and there was a lot more back and forth. And at the event itself, flying our entire team to whatever location -- and at one point that was 30 people -- is an investment. Being able to drive meant that cost efficiencies from a planning perspective were much better; it was more cost effective for our teams to attend the events."

- Melissa Cherry, Chief Operating Officer, Destinations International

 

Lower travel costs mean lower barriers to attendance, which translates to more participants being able to join and more budget that you can allocate to the experience once they get there.

Moreover, with a population of a little more than 600,000 people, Baltimore is a mid-size city, which makes it more affordable than some of its larger, urban counterparts. For perspective, restaurant prices in New York City are 34 percent higher than in Baltimore. When it comes to feeding a hungry team after a day of learning and collaboration, this can really add up.

Credits: Devin Allen

 

Baltimore has many affordable lodging options for event attendees. The Hotel Indigo Baltimore located in the heart of the city offers guests free parking with the booking reservation.

 

Connecting on a Cultural Level

As much as we miss travel for the ability to explore and satisfy our wanderlust, the uncertainty around air travel is a fine excuse to discover great and unique experiences closer to home. Why send delegates to Spain for seafood when you can find award-winning seafood within a few hours of your NYC office?

 

Breaking bread is a time-honored method to strengthen connections — and an essential way to connect with a culture. Take Woodberry Kitchen, which sources seasonal ingredients locally so you get an authentic taste of Baltimore. For those who feel more comfortable dining outdoors these days, Baltimore has many dining spots where a team can enjoy a view of the city and waterfront.

Food is one way to create a memorable event experience, but art and history are also capable of giving delegates an experiential impression at an event.

"Our attendees are brand stewards for their destination, so that completely integrates into everything from our theme to our content buckets. Baltimore just went through a rebrand around the people, culture, and history, so when we looked at developing our theme for that event, there was a lot of fodder to align with what we wanted to do. We really ingrained Baltimore’s history and stories into the tone of our event communications and messaging, including in videos that we produced and on social media."

- Melissa Cherry, Chief Operating Officer, Destinations International

 

The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is a Baltimore landmark. AVAM features three award-winning historic buildings and two sculpture plazas, which house the work of self-taught artists, including farmers, mathematicians, prison inmates and people with mental illness. It’s an inclusive space catering to artistic tastes off the beaten path, and thus provides a more memorable multi-sensory experience for attendees.

 

Baltimore is famously the birthplace of the American National Anthem, and historic destinations lend their significance to event themes as well. The Washington Monument located in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood has graced the city skyline for more than 200 years.

 

IN CONCLUSION

A destination’s close proximity to several large urban centers and road-accessibility amid all the uncertainty around flight travel not only makes it more reliable, but provides event planners and event goers alike a chance to rediscover the often-forgotten culture and history within their own backyards.

Smaller, closer destinations are also more affordable, leaving event planners with extra budget to try out an array of experiences that will make an onsite event unforgettable.

To learn more about how to host a memorable event on the Eastern Seaboard, head to Visit Baltimore.

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