Unconventional, unpredictable and unexpected. Those words might scare some, but for this year’s MATTER we decided to embrace them wholeheartedly by transforming our conference into an all-day, collaborative ‘un-conference’. That meant no keynote speakers; no set schedule; and most importantly, no excuse not to contribute. At MATTER, it’s YOU who creates the content.
This attitude reflects the philosophy behind experiential travel – in other words, that it’s defined by the experiences we create in collaboration with travellers and the environment we work in. To unlock this spirit (which we know dwells within all our PUREists), we knew we had to design an equally unconventional, unpredictable and unexpected un-conference experience.
Cue one feather-bedecked, sunglasses-sporting CEO biking his way on to a stage filled with beanbags, balloons, a bar and even a Mini, with the sound of the Stones thumping through the air. As Serge Dive, Beyond Luxury Media’s Founder & CEO, dismounted from his bicycle he explained that the reason for this change goes beyond mere theatrics.
“An un-conference is the Airbnb or Uber of the conference industry,” he commented. “The world has changed: in the post-Internet age people are communicating in a different way and our target market is getting younger.” As a result, we need to start telling stories in the manner favoured by this new generation: non-linear, collaborative and immersive, tending less towards perfection and more towards authentic insight. The dedicated elements of MATTER (SPARK, DISCUSS, LEARN and ACHIEVE – more on those below) are designed to unearth these authentic insights from the real people around you.
So PUREists, consider yourself warned: PURE 2016 is officially a suit-free zone and Serge’s attire of psychedelic-patterned trousers, a Sgt Pepper-style waistcoat and neon pink feather headdress are set to become the norm. Start Me Up, indeed…
After outlining the rules (or should we say, un-rules?) for a successful un-conference (which include overcoming your fear of public speaking, leaving your ego at the door and of course, having fun), it was time for Serge and PURE Event Manager Emma to introduce our first ever SPARK speakers. SPARK, for those who don’t already know, asked speakers to tell us how Small Promises Change Worlds in a mere 3 minutes and 45 seconds, set against a backdrop of 15 automatically-advancing slides. Whilst it may not be for the faint-hearted, the quick-fire format forces speakers to identify their key points FAST.
Our nine chosen speakers, all of whom pre-applied through the PURE website earlier in the year, covered a range of themes both familiar and unfamiliar. Ross Borden of Matador Network underscored the fact that “travel is people”, arguing that brands should encourage everyone in their organisation to have full, honest conversations with guests, not limiting interactions to guides. “Storytelling is a hot marketing word, but it’s also a human-to-human conversation,” he said. Ana Ines Figueroa of Adventure&Landscape consolidated this theme of community engagement, asking brands to recognise the inequalities existing between local communities and travellers and imploring “before we design the next ‘authentic’ product, let’s look through the eyes of the local rather than the traveller”.
Sustainability, another of the topics closest to our community’s hearts, was tackled by three of our SPARKers in markedly different ways. Lynda Miller from Vatuvara Private Islands argued that we cannot forget the role of the oceans in conservation, commenting “we are full of life and culture, but without the ocean we won’t be at all”. Ana Maria Romero of Haugan Cruises Corp iterated how crucial it is to include sustainability credentials at all levels of the supply chain, saying “you have to tell your suppliers the philosophy of your company, not just discuss a contract”. Meanwhile, Gilad Goren of Raleigh&Drake asked PUREists to consider the brand-building benefits of positive impact, telling us that “90% of US shoppers choose a brand based on the cause it represents” and arguing that particularly for the next generation of consumers, the importance of cause marketing cannot be underestimated.
The next generation was certainly of concern for Children’s Concierge’s Sandra Dee Hoffman, who put forward the idea of a ‘world school’ where the travel industry plays a central part in education, postulating “hotels as discovery spaces where students go to connect and learn”. Ashish Sanghrajka from Big Five Tours & Expeditions agreed that children are our future, arguing that we should expose them to the realities of travel rather than shield them “to empower children. Those between 5 and 15 have the ability to endure more challenge and change than adults”.
Our two remaining speakers both took the opportunity to talk about how they are innovating to change perceptions and industries. Mike Davis, filmmaker at Atlantic Productions, spoke about how he worked with David Attenborough to produce a 360-degree virtual reality film at the Great Barrier Reef and “the huge ability of VR to land the message of the fragility of the Reef”. Finally OrangeSky Laundry told the story of how two washing machines and dryers in the back of a van have generated 54,000 hours of conversation and changed the lives of homeless people in Australia by providing them with a free laundry service, finishing with the thought “It’s crazy that such a small idea can have such a significant impact”. We hope you’ll agree that all our SPARKers demonstrated that a small shift in mindset or strategy really can change the world.
LET’S TALK IT OUT
Unlike most traditional conferences, the main stage wasn’t the end of the insights. For 2016 we also introduced DISCUSS: 40-minute conversations led by members of the PURE community around a topic of their choice under the banner ‘overcoming the challenges of experiential travel’. Looking at the titles chalked up on the DISCUSS board at the beginning of the day, a few clear themes had emerged to tempt attendees into one of five beanbag-bedecked rooms.
In the current complicated international climate, crisis management was obviously on our delegates’ minds, with topics including ‘Cracking the glass ceiling of destination image after a crisis’, ‘Travelling to France after the recent attacks’ and ‘Overcoming the challenges of experiential travel in Tunisia after the revolution’. Different kinds of disruption were also being debated in talks about digital detoxing, ‘The end of the hotel as we know it’ and ‘How do we stay relevant in the world of the shared economy?’. Community and cultural engagement also made an appearance alongside an array of other more targeted topics, all drawing lively debate from participants.
LEARN TO SHARE
Finally, our ACHIEVE 10-person masterclasses in PR, social media and influencer marketing were complemented by various LEARN talks from speakers in the PURE ecosystem. A real focus on how to make the most of different platforms and tools was evident in sessions on video, Instagram, user-generated content and virtual reality. Alongside this, talks about the value of storytelling emphasised how to be creative, pitch to the press and design narrative experiences.
All that thinking requires a bit of a refuel – so over to Mövenpick for an al fresco BBQ next to the pool, where a few of our braver delegates took to the waves on inflatable swans. We’ll be stopping back here for lunch all week, so remember to bring your swimming trunks…
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