The essence of event visitor experience

Improved visitor experience is what every event manager is fanatically working on, or at least thinking about.  Today, judging by the many efforts put into this or articles published on “how to achieve”.  And experience is important, no doubt ! I think the overall experience a visitor takes home after leaving an event accounts for at least 50% of the evaluation every visitor makes afterwards.  But what does that mean ?

Should event organizers, from now on, only care about how the visitor feels after going home ?  Because judging an experience is something emotional, touching senses and feelings.  Well, the experience is not, in my opinion, just about endulging the visitor in sensations and attractions, it must also be about content, meeting the right people and doing business.  But then again, emotions, senses and feelings are often longer lasting memories than pure content.  Which does make it very important for you, organizer, to make sure that these are guided in a positive direction.  And let’s not forget, an emotional connection almost certainly leads to greater loyalty.

So, conclusion, let’s overwhelm every visitor with breathtaking decors, delicious food, mindblowing special effects,…

No, I’m not convinced.  It’s hard today to impress people in such a way.  They’ve all seen so much, done so much, this doesn’t work anymore.  On top, if it’s not all integrated and at a similar quality level, you risk having spent a lot of money on one aspect which is totally offset by some lousy basic service everyone expects to be spot on.


These are some of the essentials you shouldn’t forget or try to improve when boosting overall visitor experience.

1. Wifi

I never expected to put a technology feature on top of a list of hospitality essentials, but having a decent wifi connection has become the number one item people are looking for when entering an event building, no matter which type of building it is, or even outdoors.  As I said, make sure your wifi infrastructure works and provides enough bandwith for today’s users, uploading photos and little movie clips of your event.  You, as the organizer, will only benefit from that.

2. Parking

Sure we must, as an industry, promote the use of public transport and eco-friendly transport, like bikes or walking, but the reality, even for international shows, is that many people, sometimes a big majority, prefer their car to come to trade shows and events. Especially in B2B, visitors will plan their event visit together with other nearby appointments.  That ususally means taking the car.

A well-managed, clean and accessible parking lot, could mean the difference between an extra visitor or one that renounces his visit, last minute, fearing he won’t make it for his next appointment.  Well-managed means parking capacity is monitored, parking availability is indicated dynamically, extra places can be used when necessary.

A good parking should also be exclusively reserved for visitors during the show days.  No cars or even worse, trailers or trucks from exhibitors on the parking closest to the building.  No not even for the last event day or final hours.  Visitors first !  Difficult to explain to your exhibitors ?  Try explaining them visitors turned their car around because they had to get a parking spot 1km away.

Next thing is to provide a shuttle service from parking lots to the event entrance.  And make it abundantly available, going every 5-10 minutes at least.

You, as an organizer, have impact by selecting your event location wisely.  Still in a difficult situation concerning wifi and/or parking, get help from a professional.  A lot of transport issues will be solved by thinking about it in advance and drafting a mobility plan for your specific event.  To do that effectively, of course, you need data on your visitor’s transport habits.

3. The little things

As trivial as they sometimes might seem, they can determine to a great extent the overall visitor feeling.  I’m talking about toilets, money exchange machines and other simple services you can provide to lighten up someone’s day.

On the topic of toilets, I can recommend the use of an automated turnstile for entering the restrooms.  In return for some coins you get a ticket which not only opens the turnstile, but also serves as a discount ticket for the event catering or some other service, like parking.  The real benefit is that the toilet lady can focus on keeping the place clean and doesn’t have to worry about getting paid by each visitor.  Hygienic toilets is one of the major scoring points for hospitality.

And hospitality is all about putting a smile on your visitors’ faces.  20141203_105833

Last I stumbled upon something that made me smile.  Exiting a shopping mall, I noticed it was pouring down outside, and of course I had to walk several hundred meters to my car, in a hurry and without any rain protection. To my surprise I found, just in front of the exit doors, an umbrella machine.  Didn’t know it even existed, but there it was.  2 euros and I received a, rather small sure, but functional umbrella.  I made it to my car perfectly dry. Result : a happy visitor, with a smile, thinking often about the great experience.

Hospitality is also about countering known problems or disadvantages of your event or venue, with simple measures that serve simultaneously as a “happy maker” and something worth posting a tweet about.  Example : you know your event’s parking can be dirty and messy when it rains.  Put a shoe shining service at the entrance.  Problem solved.

Did you use other services to increase visitor experience or hospitality ?  Let me know in a comment.

The visitor experience

“Visitor experience” has been a buzz phrase for a number of years now in the event and trade show industry.  I worked at companies contributing great value at this so called experience, all of them at least in words, and some in deeds.

Let me start by agreeing that a good visitor experience is an important element in the mix of arguments to convince an attendee to show up.  To the contrary, a lousy experience would certainly be sufficient to never show up again, or at least for a while.  But what actually is important to the visitor experience ?

I would argue that mere bedazzlement isn’t part of a great experience, at least not at trade shows, maybe a bit more at corporate events.  Definitely it doesn’t equal experience.   People are being bedazzled all the time, or great resources are aimed at trying to do so, and subsequently they are a little bit fed up with flashy, shiny and awesome design constructions or light/sound/visual effects.  So stop putting heaps of money in building temporary impressive catering areas, just make sure the food and drinks are good and honestly priced.  Stop investing exhaustively in decorating the entrance, just make sure the registration process is fluent, staff is friendly and people can enter the event fast.  After all it’s what they came for.  Allow the exhibitors the joy of bedazzling visitors.  And invest in teaching those exhibitors that need it, how to treat visitors so that they feel bedazzled and VIP.

“Visitor experience” doesn’t start at the show’s entrance either, it’s quality control from the first interaction with the potential visitor up until when he/she gets back home from the event.  A complete trajectory with many touch points along the way and thus many opportunities to impact the feeling of importance and welcome.

Real “Visitor experience” is actively helping the visitor with his (daily) struggles throughout that trajectory.  These struggles are basically the same for many of us and involve easy transport, parking, avoid time loss, easy orientation, find what you were looking for, share, too much things to remember or do, annoyance/frustration about little things.

Just a couple of examples : to-the-point, personalized, snacklike promotional communication, swift online ticket sales and registration, registration confirmation mail with ics-file, reminder e-mail with up-to-date practical details, easy and comfortable parking, speedy onsite registration, welcome e-mail right after entering the event, e-mail with feature exhibitors or promotions not to miss, functional event app, location based messaging, helpful interactive digital signage, free toilets, free wifi, thank-you-for-your-visit e-mail after the event.

The evaluation made by the visitor on the quality of his/her experience is made when returning home or even days/weeks after the event.  On top the visitor experience is what’s called a “losing game”, with much more severe dissatisfiers than satisfiers.  This means that excellent, over the top, expensive decoration will be of no value if basic things like tidiness in the restrooms isn’t at accepted standards.  So aim efforts at setting a basic standard on every single touch point with the visitor that you can control and check, then increase each level evenly with an emphasis on helping the visitor finding what he/she came for.  And believe me this visitor didn’t come to be impressed with the state-of-the-art design of the champagne bar, on which most visitors aren’t event allowed access. 

My advice would be to make a map of all the steps in the visitor experience (touchpoints) from pre-visit until post-visit and a map of the pain points.  Try to imagine what your visitor was thinking or doing at each stage.  Example : when leaving an event the visitor will undoubtedly be thinking “where did I leave my car ?”.  Look at how you can help him remember that.

Then compare and look at where and how you can influence at large to convert the pain points into winner points enhancing the experience.

Something like this but then filled out to match the specifics of your event.

Map of complete event trajectory.

Map of complete event trajectory.

Map of complete event trajectory.

Map of complete event trajectory with impact points.