I like to tell people I work in an “invisible industry.”
It immediately invites a sense of intrigue, and easily proves true if I invite them to identify who is a Madison resident and who is a visitor while strolling down State Street. (Hint: you can’t win that game.)
They’re usually impressed to learn impact stats like “visitors spent $1.4 billion” in our city last year. But they really lean in when I share behind-the-scenes stories from our Event Services team. This mighty team puts the fun (and funny) in functional as they teach us that working behind the scenes is rarely routine.
Read on for their greatest hits of exceeding planner and attendee wish lists.
1. Wow-worthy welcomes
“Our work begins way before the welcome, by helping attendees visualize themselves in Madison,” says Director of Destination Services Amber Wiza.
Luckily, Madison’s lake-city-lake landscape offers tons of stunning scenery. So Wiza and her team curate image libraries and social media starters as part of planner tool kits to help spark excitement.
“By the time they reach the registration table, they’re familiar. So our staff can do more than handing out maps—we can carry on customized conversations about restaurant recommendations or things to do that are walkable. It really helps take pressure off the planners.”
From time to time, the team creates clever welcome signage, from floor-to-ceiling window signs to mirror clings in guest rooms to hotel lobby tables with welcome signage and snacks.
2. Sustainability is key
Leaving the planet better than we found it is one of Destination Madison’s main mantras. Wiza and her team have worked with multiple clients to plan sustainable offsets for their Madison meetings, from the simple act of picking up trash post-event to facilitating waterfront cleanup projects at Lake Monona to making connections with charities that support social sustainability, like when the Uniform Law Commission made a donation to YWCA Madison. "We work with each group to incorporate something that is meaningful to them," says Wiza. "In the future, that could be a tree-planting program or voluntourism opportunities."
3. Oh, say can you… sing?
The Destination Madison team has had its share of adventures in securing last-minute singers. Which isn’t easy when they need to be of Star-Spangled Banner caliber.
“I mean, IRONMAN isn’t the kind of event you can kick off without a proper send-off,” says Executive VP of Sales & Sports Strategy Jamie Patrick. “But we almost did in 2021. After that, we quickly developed a database of talented artists so we’re always at the ready in a patriotic emergency,” he quips.
That list includes local celebrities like UW-Madison Police Chief Kristen Roman, who sang at the USA BMX Badger State Nationals and a saxophonist who played a powerful version to match the vibe at the first CrossFit Games in Madison.
4. VIP visits
When the mayor makes a match, we’re ready with custom itineraries. Such was the case when Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway let us know we were about to get a VIP visit from Lily White, VP of External Affairs for the Columbia Chamber of Commerce in Missouri.
“When we welcomed Lily and 80 of her colleagues, conversation came easy, since we’re both capital and campus cities,” recalls Sales Account Manager Samantha Brown. “But our pre-planning meetings really helped us pick places that would help them in their work. We coordinated visits to the Urban League’s Black Business Hub to illustrate how Madison is working toward transforming disparity into prosperity and Breese Stevens Field to showcase how a historic stadium is launching an all-new sports scene.
5. Designing dine arounds
Hostess: How many in your party this evening?
Sounds ridiculous, right? But that was the total number of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) attendees we made reservations for on a single evening dedicated to dine-arounds. It was a big lift with big rewards: what better way to showcase our culinary capital than treating travel writers?
“We identified 17 different restaurants that were walkable or bikeable from where everyone was staying and wrote descriptions to help them choose the top spots that matched their tastes,” shares Geneva Loeffelholz, Sales & Services Assistant. “From global fare to gluten-free and plant-based to swanky steaks, working in a James Beard-recognized city makes my job planning dine arounds fun and easy.”
6. Room drops that make jaws drop
When it comes to swag, gift bags, hotel lobby stops and room drops, our secret to making them memorable? Keeping it local.
“Some of our go-to faves are the flavors from WiscoPop and Fortune Favors,” says Wiza, who is always on the lookout for new items that are locally made to add into the mix. “But the made-in-Madison gift that gets the most comments, posts and pics? Petphoria snack packs. This woman-owned business makes treats and accessories that are sure to make your furry friends forgive you for being away for work.”
7. Blazing a trail (Or two or three)
When the meetings are done, we’ve created a way for attendees to find self-guided fun: virtual trails to try some of the best experiences Madison has to offer. Madison on Tap offers deals and discounts at local breweries, cideries and distilleries.
For those who are more outdoor explorers, Madison by Bike is a partnership with BCycle (our local bike share program) that features four trails to try, each with its own vibe. Both are accessible online and act as adventure passes with deals, discounts, perks and prizes.
Coming soon: a trail of Madison “must-do’s” designed to help business travelers find restaurants, shops and attractions within walking distance of Monona Terrace.