Truly Inspired Event Themes

Coming up with an event theme is crucial, but it's no simple task. Having a unique event theme will set the tone and mood of any meeting or special program. In fact, creating a distinctive motif for a large event can excite, motivate, and engage guests, and even bolster attendee morale. Fundamental to the theme of any event is the destination. To that end, it is essential to consider all of the factors that are important to the group and its mission. Then, you should investigate destination options and develop a theme.

When determining the right theme, carefully take the following factors into account:

The Destination
Look for a unique destination that will set your meeting apart from the norm - from a desert retreat, to mountain lodge to a waterfront resort. Keep in mind that the purpose and length of the meeting can influence how far you want to travel or the type of venue you choose, and that each group will have different formats and priorities.

For example, an incentive meeting may be more focused on recreation, an annual board meeting could be all about work, and a corporate retreat might be a mix of both. Other factors to consider: Is there a need for a large formal conference center? What about activities for spouses or family members who might not be part of the actual meeting? Is the venue large enough to handle the group? Does it offer activities that might be of interest to your attendees? Does the venue offer the right location and ambiance to help attendees focus on the content of the meeting?

The Group's Interests and Profile
A property's mission and objectives should align with your group's, and meeting design should dovetail with business priorities. With this in mind, look very closely at the group and determine what its objectives and budget are; from there, select the optimum property. Information is the key to creating a customized event that meets everyone's needs and expectations. Even the most carefully orchestrated event can fall flat if you choose the wrong location or theme. To circumvent this, always research, and then share openly everything you know about your group with the in-house venue pros. This includes demographics, industry, meeting preference types, company culture, and more.

Ways to Customize
After you select your destination and determine your group's objectives, start thinking carefully about the theme. To really customize an event experience, it is essential to spotlight a destination's unique attributes, such as history, artwork, architecture, or local color. The best way to do this is through interactive, hands-on activities such as history tours or scavenger hunts.

For example, at La Quinta Resort & Club, we incorporate many elements of our history, including famous past guests, like Greta Garbo, and Frank Capra, who actually wrote It Happened One Night and It's a Wonderful Life while staying at the resort during the 1930s and '40s. One of our event venues, La Casa, is where Greta Garbo reportedly stayed, and when we host events there, we typically develop a 1950s Hollywood theme, featuring servers dressed as celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, a red-carpet entrance, spotlights, and cars from the 1950s. We also host scavenger hunts where props are set up around the property. These provide clues on how to find certain places like Frank Capra's or Johnny Carson's suite. These activities engage guests and enable them to learn about the history of the property in the process.

Focus on Cuisine
It's also important to tie into the regional culture by showcasing ingredients that are indigenous to a respective area; think carefully about seasonality and agriculture in the region. For example, a southern destination might feature local favorites such as mint juleps, fried green tomatoes, coleslaw or a pit barbecue. A dude ranch might feature cowboy-style fare such as steak, buffalo, and other game meats.

Farming is the No.1 industry in the Coachella Valley region where La Quinta is located, so our event menus often capitalize on the readily available fresh produce. Jimmy Schmidt, executive chef of our dining venue, Morgan's in the desert, was a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement. To that end, he and his team make full use of regional ingredients - dates, artichokes, grapes, citrus, and figs, for example - for events and for our restaurants.

Add Signature Accents
For a unique flair, incorporate signature accents into the event's decor and cuisine that capture the destination's region and history. A distinctive item that is unique to the destination can enhance the dining experience for groups. Because our resort has an amazing array of grapefruit, orange, and lemon trees on property, we've created a signature juice made with citrus and sweetened with agave nectar that we like to serve at events.

La Quinta's executive sous chef, Michael Vaughn, once worked at a property in Montana where they branded each steak and used antique, cowboy-style flatware and dishware - old seltzer bottles and cast-iron plates - at special events. An East Coast waterfront resort might want to incorporate seashells, driftwood, or nautical touches as accents.

Venture Off Site
Meeting planners should always explore the surrounding community and check to see what nearby activities are on tap. This is an ideal way to get a real taste of an area's local color and a way to plan for teambuilding experiences.

For example, desert resorts in the Coachella Valley often offer off-site group excursions, such as retro home tours, jeep tours, trips to The Living Desert, and trips to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Outdoor physical activities are also increasingly popular with guests; we encourage groups to take hiking excursions to Joshua Tree and the Indian Canyons, as well as agricultural bike tours.

Get to Know Your Destination Management Company
To really get a good feel for the area, use a destination management company (DMC) that specializes in that particular region. A DMC's experience in a specific locale can be invaluable. They can provide access to local events and activities, and they also know all of the local regulations and ordinances, from noise restrictions for parties to the required security badges needed for meet-and-greet staff at the airport. Additionally, DMCs offer inside information on area attractions and restaurants, as well as in-depth knowledge of the destination and the vendors giving the best prices.

Break the Ice
Choose fun, camaraderie-inspiring breakout sessions. Food and beverage is a good common ground for everyone - the one thing everyone can talk about - offering an ideal icebreaker. To that end, examples of great breakout sessions that help spark conversation include wine tastings, cooking demos, clambakes, or cheese samplings. Live-action sessions, where guests can interact one-on-one with the chef, are also a wonderful way to engage attendees.

Physical activities offer a good way to break the ice, too. At La Quinta, we offer both golf and tennis clinics to groups.

Give a Gift
Offer inspired mementos as gifts for attendees. Fun, memorable items provide a tangible takeaway and remind guests of their experience. These items should tie into the theme. For example, at La Quinta Resort & Club, we often give out a book on Palm Springs' history. We also connect into our local area's agricultural ties by offering locally produced pasta sauces, dates, or candied fruit. Similar ideas could be a small bottle of maple syrup from a northeast resort or a bottle of wine from a property in the Napa Valley region. Whatever you decide to give, think about finding products that are unique to the region.

Tie in Teambuilding
Teambuilding sessions that relate to the event should also tie into the local culture. Examples can include chili cook-offs, whitewater rafting, or even habitat restoration. Many groups are also enthusiastically participating in community-based activities centered on supporting local charities.