Discovering Indianapolis with Visit Indy at MPI WEC 2018

July 12, 2018

I attended Meeting Professionals International (MPI)’s 2018 World Education Congress (WEC) last month in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was my first time in both the state and the city, and I was favorably impressed by the location, the conference and the local destination management organization (DMO), Visit Indy.

While I was onsite, I spoke with Susie Townsend, Visit Indy’s senior vice president of visitor experience, about Visit Indy and how they partnered with MPI for WEC. Townsend has been with the organization for 29 years, so has a rich history and knowledge of the events industry and DMO business models. She has also helped direct large-scale events such as the 2012 Super Bowl.

Townsend’s title would typically be vice president of convention services. Visit Indy CEO, Leonard Hoops, decided on the “visitor experience” title as it shows what the group actually does on a broader scale. The visitor experience responsibilities encompass Visit Indy’s welcome group, convention services, housing and all of the DMO’s event departments.

“At Visit Indy we have five key initiatives, and satisfying the customer is one of them,” Townsend explained.  

She added, “It really is about the entire customer experience. The theme of MPI WEC was ‘Stop Planning Meetings, Start Designing Experiences’ and our entire team, including our volunteers, took that to heart. We thought through every part of the experience. We wanted to make sure as soon as guests arrived at the airport there was an experience waiting for them and I think that experience helped set the tone.”

The experience she referenced was the WEC welcome station at the airport. Badge pickup and a complimentary welcome beverage were offered, which was both convenient and a great way to set an initial tone for the event. The area was staffed by the DMO’s volunteers.

Visit Indy also had tables set up in many of the conference hotels, where all attendees were invited to pick up a special welcome gift box full of local Indiana products and an amenity kit featuring items like Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, emery boards and anti-perspirant wipes.

Townsend explained that the goal was to make sure everybody felt like a VIP, so the gift boxes were for all the conference attendees, not just client-side representatives.

Showcasing all that Indiana has to offer locally was another one of Visit Indy’s initiatives for this event. The MPI WEC opening party was a great example. The event was held outdoors in the White River State Park, featured local food, and a performance by Straight No Chaser, an a capella group formed in 1996 at Indiana University that has since had international success.

“It is a concert venue, but we worked with our destination management company (DMC) partner Accent, and rebranded it to be all about Indiana and MPI,” Townsend said.

She added, “Most groups don't use that space in that way, and they were really proud of the results. This was a huge team effort. ”

According to Townsend, there were 180 volunteers in addition to the core team that worked on planning the event for the year in advance. She stressed that everyone acted as a team, and all ideas were welcome, including many that were implemented around corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Townsend explained that it was important for Visit Indy to work with organizations and initiatives that helped local charities, and find a way that other conventions can easily contribute to the charity of their choice going forward.

“There was a lot of passion from our group about how we could give back to the community,” she said.

She continued, “I think it’s an inspiration to people and it makes everybody’s experience better knowing that they are helping others. Donating small items like mascara or a purse, something they can bring in their suitcase, or letting people paint murals makes the experience more personal and more meaningful. Hopefully all of those agencies will be helped a little bit and be able to help a little bit more.”

Visit Indy’s gift boxes were all compostable, and the boxes were packed by Shares, a company that helps the developmentally disabled.

As MPI WEC was an event for event planners, there were more opportunities than usual to truly showcase many of the special areas within the city. There was a block party outdoors at Monument Circle. One lunch was held on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium and another was a food truck experience. The special event was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Both Townsend and Hoops talked about Visit Indy’s vision for the customer experience as going beyond expectations and delivering a surprise around every turn.

“So many of the attendees here have never been here before and we wanted them to have those ‘wow’ moments, the ‘I had no idea’ that Indianapolis was like this or could do this,” Townsend said.

“You can describe Indianapolis, but seeing it is something different. Experiencing the hotels being connected, the convention center being so convenient. The initial airport experience was a really neat partnership, but one I think we will repeat if we can, as the feedback has been amazing,” she added.  

Visit Indy also provided a memorable experience for journalists who were attending the event, including showcasing some of the city’s many restaurants, hotels and fun activities for groups or individual travelers. I would happily down more of St. Elmo’s shrimp cocktail, dine at Livery again any day, and spend more hours watching the impressive and adorable array of penguins in the Indianapolis Zoo.

Some of the other special touches at the event included hand-written thank you notes from MPI Chapter leaders delivered to each attendee’s hotel room.

Visit Indy provides free destination management services for groups of all sizes, designed to make planners’ lives easier. The DMO can help organizations find the right space, dates, and rates and can also assist with marketing and promotions.

“Our goal is to save you time,” said Townsend.

She added, “We can help facilitate and find experiences that are unique to Indianapolis, find local talent, local speakers. We can help with materials, with signage, with volunteers. There are many ways that going through a CVB can help, and we hope people use our CVB or others because we feel like we're the experts — and I think we are. We have a passion for the city that we represent and we want to help people engage with our city.”

To learn more about Visit Indy, go HERE

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