How businesses create successful virtual experiences during a pandemic

What separates the good bfood and travel virtual experiences from the bad ones?

virtual food and travel experiences



CocuSocial/Instagram


Knowing that the gap between physical and virtual is a difficult one to bridge, and that they’re competing for your attention with a vast spectrum of online activities, businesses are being especially careful to make these new food and travel experiences worth it.

Theo Rutherford, a sommelier and wine educator at Josh Cellars, asked Insider, “Why would someone take the time to log into this specific tasting? Though we are stuck at home, that doesn’t mean that people are going to join with a plethora of options out there.” 

Josh Cellars, which has hosted experiences like a seminar on how to taste like a sommelier and a food and wine pairing experience with a new Cabernet Sauvignon, aims to create virtual moments that are interactive, educational, and fun.  Rutherford said the company wants to “give the viewer something to look forward to” in times of ongoing stress and change. 

At CocuSocial, a company that usually offers group cooking and tasting classes in unique locations, employees thought about the distinction between its lessons and other food content on the internet. Cofounder Billy Guan said that the new classes had to be personalized, interactive, and hands-on in order to separate them from ordinary, static cooking videos and recipes.

That’s why in its Master Series class, CocuSocial offers the unique opportunity to work closely with Michelin-starred, James Beard award-winning, and celebrity chefs. This kind of exclusive access to experts helps the brand set itself apart from competitors. 

Virtual experiences need to have an element of interactivity if a brand hopes to succeed in the digital space. 

Many of the businesses I spoke to said they purposely make their online experiences 45 minutes to one hour long, maximum, to account for short attention spans. 

And within that 45-minute-to-one-hour window, a host can’t assume that the participants are actively watching their screens and absorbing the information. Icebreaker activities and live Q&A sessions are common tactics used to keep virtual participants engaged. 

“We’re accustomed to hosting people at our destinations where they are immersed in our curated environment. At first, the storytelling was awkward because we weren’t sharing the same space as our guests where we could easily point to our different displays and memorabilia,” said Janiene Ullrich, a vice president at The Family Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s e-commerce site.

“After some time each host develops a different set of cues to identify and respond to in order to keep everyone feeling engaged, as well as elaborated descriptions to convey a sense of our environment and culture.” 

There are lots of new challenges to overcome, namely navigating technical difficulties and getting necessary supplies to participants around the country. 

Ullrich said, “Going virtual meant having to let go of a certain level of control, especially when it comes to technology where there’s inconsistent video and audio quality and guests have different comfort levels with using Zoom.”

However, as her team quickly discovered — and as you may have experienced in various virtual meetings or happy hours — most people are fairly forgiving with technical glitches, as long as there’s empathy on both sides. 

Meanwhile, setting up participants for success beyond the screen is often done through two routes: the company either provides a list of everything the participant will need to buy or prepare in advance, or it ships the supplies directly to them. 

CocuSocial provides participants with detailed grocery and equipment checklists, as well as instruction outlines, while Josh Cellars encourages viewers to buy its wine via online delivery apps like Drizly so they can follow along during a tasting. 

Flower delivery service 1-800-Flowers has been hosting highly successful live floral arranging workshops in collaboration with Alice’s Table. Back in April, the first 3,000 spots sold out within days, and a rep told me that ticket sales had to be temporarily shut down so the brand’s team could re-up on supplies. 

The barrier to entry for this particular series of workshops is low because participants just need a pair of floral clippers and a water source. 1-800-Flowers sends them farm-fresh flowers, a stylish vase, and flower care instructions one or two days before the class. Feedback about the flower quality has been positive, and reviewers love that they’re sent enough flowers to make a second arrangement. 

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