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Addressing the Trends in Experiential Meetings

PJ Loughran, founder and CEO of executive hospitality company Emájyn, answers the important questions on what attendees want from their group outings

By Amanda Christensen

Emájyn is an executive hospitality company with offices in Chicago, Illinois; Los Angeles, California; and New York City, New York; that specializes in tailored group experiences focused on culture and entertainment. The company is centered on six core pillars around which it crafts these experiences: music and entertainment, culinary, fine arts, adventure, leadership, and purpose—all with the goal of taking events to the next level beyond the traditional corporate retreat or golf outing.

There is almost no limit to the type and size of group that Emájyn can accommodate, from as small as six to as large as several thousand, with its sweet spot being from 50 to 200. And while its offices are based in the U.S., Emájyn serves clients all around the world—to this date, it has arranged experiences in more than 40 countries across five continents.

To address the latest trends related to curated group experiences, we spoke with Emájyn’s founder and CEO PJ Loughran. He runs the company with his wife, Sue Loughran, who serves as president of Emájyn.

Image of Sue Loughran (left) and PJ Loughran (right), who run Emáyn as president and founder/CEO, respectively. May 30, 2024
Sue Loughran (left) and PJ Loughran (right) || Photo by Garret Baumer, courtesy of Kinship

M+E: What sorts of trends are you seeing within the corporate meeting space regarding group experiences and why do you think that is?

PL: Over the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve seen significant growth overall in the exclusive experience economy, and in particular, interest moving away from very large-scale events like major music festivals and sporting events toward smaller-scale niche events and more intimate experiences. Typically, our clients are looking to host their most valued relationships in ways that demonstrate their empathy toward the high value we all put on our available time, recognizing the need to be increasingly creative in order to attract and spend more time with these valued guests than their competition.

M+E: What factors are playing into these trends?

PL: There are so many factors. The executive suite of today looks very different from that of past generations. Most corporate entertainment and executive retreats were traditionally set around golf outings and major sporting events. Today’s executives are a much more diverse group of individuals with a broader set of interests to appeal to. Companies that don’t evolve their thinking regarding executive retreats risk alienating or even offending key relationships in their industry.

The fast expansion of digital communication tools, including video conferencing and increased social media, has created a greater importance on time spent in person to build and foster relationships. While tools like Zoom have led to greater efficiency and substantive overhead reductions, they can’t replace the high value of time spent in person.

[Regarding the impact of COVID-19], this hybrid office transformation we’re transitioning to is creating a greater importance for maintaining company culture through company retreats and more regular events. With employees spending less and less time in the office, we’re seeing companies beginning to divert expensive office investments towards quality experience investments for their executives and staff.

M+E: What are some examples of previous experiences Emájyn has organized?

PL: The London Beatles Experience (England): During this epic five-day Beatles experience, our guests followed in the footsteps of the world’s most influential band, which included the opportunity to write and record original songs at London’s iconic Abbey Road Studios alongside some of the industry’s most celebrated producers, writers, and musicians. The experience featured a private historical tour of Liverpool, which included stops at Lennon and McCartney’s childhood homes with the world’s preeminent Beatles historian and author. Throughout their stay, guests enjoyed incredible hospitality and culinary experiences that represented the very best of London, including dinner at the incomparable Chiltern Firehouse, martini lessons at Duke’s London, and a private dinner at the ultra-exclusive Arts Club.

The Heart of Cartagena (Columbia): We designed a four-day itinerary that allowed guests to fully immerse themselves in Cartagena’s rich history, culture, and culinary scene. Throughout the journey, guests enjoyed everything from a VIP mixology class at Alquimico (recently ranked No.9 on “The World’s 50 Best Bars” list published by William Reed), a private walking tour of the city seen through the unique lens of a local film producer, private salsa lessons and skipping the line to the city’s top salsa bar, a special Colombian “coffee baptism” with the country’s award-winning coffee producer, and a cooking class and dinner at an acclaimed Cartagena institution run by one of the most well-known chefs in the city and alumnus of multiple Michelin-starred restaurants around the world. On the final day, guests gathered on a private yacht charter for a day trip to the turquoise waters of Rosario Islands, where they explored its secluded beaches before making a stop at a luxurious beach club. The trip concluded with a private rooftop dinner in Old Town Cartagena with a celebrated Colombian chef who served up a mouthwatering meal in an unforgettable setting.

Washington, D.C., Leadership Tour: For this unique behind-the-scenes journey, our client hosted their esteemed guests alongside leading pundits, journalists, and politicians, for VIP private tours of historical sites and museums and a variety of private institutions. The experience included a private tour of the capitol building with special viewings of the House and Senate floor during a live session, a behind-the-scenes look into the United States Supreme Court with a Washington insider, exceptional dining experiences at the city’s top restaurants, and concluded with an exclusive experience at Chef José Andrés’ award-winning flagship cocktail lab Barmini and restaurant Minibar, with none other than the “Ragin’ Cajun” himself, James Carville.

M+E: Why are these kinds of outings important?

PL: They are invaluable opportunities for talent retention, employee incentives, client relationship-nurturing and revenue growth. Participation in more unique outings creates memories that can only be shared among that group, hence forging lasting relationships surrounding this common experience.

M+E: In what direction do you see this industry heading regarding corporate group experiences?

PL: We anticipate the bar continually being raised, with expectations of more and more creativity in experience planning and increasingly interesting destinations. We believe key prospective talent, in particular, will place higher value on these types of experiences when deciding on what companies to align themselves with. Concurrently, existing and prospective clients’ loyalties will be increasingly impacted by these opportunities to spend time with their key partnerships.