The Experience of Niche Conferences & Finding Value on the Outskirts of Sin City

Keith LaFerriere, Chief Creative Officer


I think the world of niche conferences is highly underrated. As a solutions provider in the professional services space, Verndale had an opportunity to not only be one of the only agencies on site, but also had the chance to get on a panel to offer the perspective that I think was sorely lacking in several sessions, namely: working with partners to define and design amazing experiences for visitors and thrill seekers. There are a couple things, I think, that make much more sense when you’re trying to get as much bang for the buck when it comes to smaller conferences and venues.


On par with most small conferences, you’re going to be in either a 1 or 2 track line that caters to very specific audiences. And, in doing so, you’re going to hopefully get a thoughtfully curated list of options for the experience. With Digital Travel Summit, the experience was split not only by tracks, but by day. For a total of approximately 250 attendees, the track structure might seem like overkill, but it was very well-orchestrated, and the topics were hyper-focused to the audience. Each day was a completely different set of tracks, so the content never got to the point at most shows where you end up hearing the same case study repeatedly with a different logo. We attended several keynote sessions within tracks, and then watched a couple demonstrations from software vendors, and we thought the experience was easy.


As anyone who’s ever been to Vegas for a convention will tell you, it’s hard to stay in the moment when you hear the call of a show, dinner, table game, and slot within 100 yards of your conference seat. The same applies to when you’re on the outskirts, but we felt like the ambiance at the venue (Green Valley Rach, if you’re inclined to get away from the Strip) was wonderful and allowed for just enough fun that you didn’t feel like you were missing anything, but close enough to take the team out to a club or a dinner on the strip a very reasonable 20 minutes away.


OK, enough about the schedule and the venue. I can list three immediate insights about the travel and tourism world, simply by watching and understanding the challenges being faced by almost every level of organization:

  1. Customers do not discriminate in their opinion of your digital offering. Organizations with limited budgets have the same problems as the larger ones do. From Caesars Entertainment to The Plaza Hotel, there was no discernible difference in the tools, needs, and expectations of what the organization or the customer wants when it comes to digital: fast, free, helpful, and immediate options to enhance or manage their experience. No gray space.
  2. Themed experiences have the same issues, but a more captive audience once they’ve converted. This is one of those things we experienced working directly with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment when we redesigned and created their seven park experiences. It’s more important for the destination to know as much as humanly possible before the guests arrive. LegoLand had a similar approach when they recently redesigned their site experience: putting personalization and planning high on the list of things that needed to be fixed to get closer to their guests. So far, they have a phase 1 release out, and they’re doing everything they can to gain insights that matter.
  3. The platforms are ready, and they’re waiting for the right ask. Marketing Technology stacks have been overwhelmingly promising everything under the sun on the hopes that brands take advantage and become loyal to their way of predicting, producing, and prescribing behavior. What’s missing is the thing that bridges it all together: A cogent, well-planned strategy that embraces economy of scale without ditching the bells and whistles. And, while there are literally hundreds and hundreds of digital providers out there, it takes a great deal of successful experiences to guide these organizations to the right size solution. I can’t tell you how many people came up to us after our panel discussion about this topic and said they need to better understand how different layers of the technical architecture work, how they play together, and how to not lose out on the emotional connection they need to express through their visual identity. That’s exactly why we’re here.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this show looks like for next year, but I’m certainly also going to search out a few more niche conferences to see what challenges are happening at a root level.