Site Selection for Event Guide [2020]

Site Selection for Event Guide

Regardless of the type of site, you will be responsible for selecting or recommending, the advance preparation and the process of research, evaluation, and decision-making will be similar.

The timeline for beginning the process will be different, of course, based on whether you are selecting a city for a multiple-day conference that will occur two years from now or be selecting a local venue for a meeting or event scheduled in the upcoming months.

Depending on the popularity of the area your group prefers and the time of year you want to book your event, you may find it necessary to book further in advance than you would expect.  Although booking years in advance may be on hold for the time being due to the current economy, it may still be necessary for high demand locations during peak season.

The reasons for choosing a city are unique to every group, and a Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB) or a Destination Management Company (DMC) understands that perfectly.  They are in business to attract group business to their city or region and can provide invaluable information about the resources available to you there.  They want to help you find the perfect fit!  The CVB can provide assistance at no charge, and they can recommend a qualified DMC for you upon request.

Selecting Cities for Meetings or Events

Regions and Destination Cities

Before beginning research on regions or cities you want to consider for your meeting or event, compile information from within your own organization about what type of area is preferred and why.
How to prepare –
The information your group decision-makers provide will prove invaluable to you as the planner, but it will also help the venues and vendors you contact throughout the entire planning process do a better job for you if they understand the following:

  • Purpose of the meeting, conference or event
  • History of your group from past events
  • Preferred date with arrival/departure patterns
  • Number of attendees expected
  • Accommodations needed for lodging, functions, meetings, events, exhibits
  • Things of particular importance to your group when booking an area or city such as –
    • The requirement for rotation of the event to various regions of the country
    • Invitation received from local members of the group who live in close proximity
    • Cost effectiveness
    • Travel convenience for a majority of the targeted audience
    • Access to facilities or projects of importance to the program –
      • a campus for higher education
      • medical training centers
      • infrastructure or transportation projects
      • remote location for strategic planning or leadership training
      • oceanography, etc.

Good starting points

When asked to research a geographic region that you are unfamiliar with for a conference or meeting, a good starting point is to contact a Convention & Visitor Bureau (CVB) at the state level or within specific cities you have designated as possibilities.  Destination Management Companies are also excellent resources and are well known for their expertise in coordinating with local vendors and venues on behalf of meeting planners who are located in other areas for a fee.

Reach out to your counterparts who handle groups similar to yours and have conducted an event in the area you are considering.  To find them, go to forums or communities, inquire on social media.  Check profiles of members of associations you have joined and given them a call.  Great way to strengthen coalitions with other meeting planners!

Convention Visitor Bureaus (CVB)

If your meeting or event requires a group block of overnight sleeping room accommodations, Convention & Visitor Bureaus offer a multitude of services – some of them free.  It is their mission to attract meeting and event business to their cities, so they will offer support in gathering information from venues, facilities, and service providers that could accommodate the specific needs of your group. Based on their budget, the CVB will also coordinate with those you wish to contact by distributing information about your group so they can be better prepared to discuss your needs when you contact them.

If the area becomes a serious contender for your business, the CVB can coordinate a site inspection visit for you and may even be able to help offset some of the cost. They can schedule a tour of the entire area as well as appointments with the venues, facilities, and vendors you would like to visit. CVB’s that have good tracking systems may also keep a history of your group’s actual pickup of sleeping rooms and other activities while in their city, which will be available to you upon request and can be very helpful for your future planning.

More detailed info or a cross-check about activities in a specific hotel or convention centre will be available to you by contacting the venues you used directly.

Destination Management Companies (DMC) –

When a meeting or event planner is required to make arrangements in a city or geographical area unknown to them, it may be worthwhile to consult a Destination Management Company (DMC).  DMC’s have expertise in coordinating with vendors, venues, and facilities in their own areas on behalf of meeting planners, and are also experienced in event management.  They can handle a portion or all of the conference or event for a fee.  CVB’s are good resources for connecting with a reputable DMC, and, as always, trusted meeting planners and professional associations are the best sources for recommendations and references.

Before you begin negotiations –

A personal site inspection visit is a must before making a final decision about the city, venue or facility for your upcoming event. Without a site inspection it is impossible to get a feeling how well support services of the city would serve the needs of your group, nor could you observe the true condition of the hotels, venues or facilities and the surrounding areas.
When seriously considering a city to host your conference, the site inspection could require an overnight stay to allow time for visiting multiple properties, meetings with caterers and other service providers, touring the city to determine the proximity of restaurants and attractions and to and to verify the quality of support services available.  It has been an industry standard in the past for a hotel to provide one complimentary overnight sleeping room for a site inspection visit if serious intent to book a significant number of sleeping rooms with the property has been pre-determined.  The current economy has dictated many changes in policy, so this policy may now be different.

More details –

Guidelines and samples on how to present the information in formats easy to understand and use by Convention & Visitors Bureaus (CVB), Destination Management Companies (DMC), venues, facilities, vendors and service providers can be found in Planning Helper’s Booking Guidelines in the Before You Book topic along with instructions and sample documents to walk you through the booking process in an organized, time-saving and effective manner.

Sample documents –

The PDF, Excel or Word documents provided in this section are meant to serve as examples to give you a head start in streamlining the planning and coordination process for your own purposes.  The content and formulas must be changed to apply to the unique needs of your group.

Selecting Venues and Facilities

Once the city or geographic area has been decided and you are ready to explore different venues for lodging and function space that would be appropriate for your group, you may find the sheer number of types and services available to be mind-boggling. A brief description for each of the various types is available for you below.  If your group is adventuresome and would like a real change of scene, there are very creative options for venues that can enhance the perfect setting for your meeting, event or social function!

If you are booking short term, meaning within the next 90 days, it should be easier to find availability of guest rooms and function space at hotels or resorts due to the challenges they face in the current economy.  In some areas of the country, however, hotel and conference properties are still doing quite well so check the availability and verify booking policies early before moving ahead with any other plans. You may have to book much further in advance than you would think if your preferred location is in high demand or if your choices are limited due to the need for an exhibit hall or large convention hotels.  Trade shows and large conventions are typically booked 2 to 10 years in advance.

Social functions –

The function space that many hotels offer for social functions can be extremely versatile ranging from exquisite for a wedding to casual and fun for a fiesta.  Many people think only of ballrooms when a hotel comes to mind, but gardens, terraces, suites with magnificent balconies and even rooftops can be themed to create a unique and perfect setting.

You may prefer to hold your function in a free-standing venue that does not offer guest room accommodations, however, and will need to protect a block of guest rooms under the separate contract at a nearby hotel or other lodging types.  This can be more expensive, particularly if the venue you are considering does not have an equipped kitchen nor an inventory of linens, tableware, glassware, tables, and chairs.  If that is the case, you will be required to also contract with an equipment rental company to provide all the necessary items.

Free-standing venues –

Free-standing venues such as a historic train depot, an aquarium, a church or temple, a lovely outdoor garden or even a zoo are only a few of the possibilities to consider!  Local attractions will usually offer areas that can be cordoned for private parties during certain hours of the day or evening.  Lodging options are plentiful, too.  Your guests may be enchanted to experience the ambiance of a historic Bed and Breakfast Inn, or if your budget is tight and your program is educational, you may want to explore accommodations at a university.  You may be pleasantly surprised at the quality of a conference center and guest rooms that may be available to you on campus.

Under one roof –

If you are coordinating a meeting or event with multiple functions and the need for overnight guest rooms, holding everything “under one roof” will almost always prove to be the most cost effective way to go.  The more revenue your group can generate for one venue, the more negotiating power you will have for amenities and price concessions and the easier it will be on your budget.  It may also reduce the risk of attrition penalties that will be included in almost every type of contract providing a recourse to venues, facilities, caterers, recreational facilities and more if attendance falls short and the revenues projected from your group do not materialize.

Conferences or larger meetings –

Larger functions may require research on more than one type of facility to accommodate the various aspects of the program.  Meetings with an all day or multi-day agenda will need function space and services for meetings and catered meals or refreshment breaks.  Space for exhibits and recreational activities may also have to be arranged in addition to overnight guest room accommodations. Such gatherings are often booked in hotels where all needs can be accommodated, but a convention center may also be necessary if you need exhibit space a very large ballroom or many different breakout rooms.

Some conferences can be handled beautifully at a smaller, boutique property even if space requirements are significant.  Boutiques can be preferred if the attendees prefer a more intimate environment with more personalized service.  With a little imagination, you can find the perfect spot for tabletop exhibits or a large meal function at a boutique property, perhaps in a tented garden area where a networking reception will also be held.  Your exhibitors might even sponsor it!

Small meetings –

If you work for a company that plans educational training workshops, board meetings or other types of small meeting, function space may not be your primary concern.  Often companies have dedicated space in their own buildings for this purpose.  However, if you need to book a meeting short term (within 90 days or so) many hotel or catering facilities will be happy to accommodate you if they have any open space available on your preferred dates.  If you are trying to book space beyond 90 days, you may find that the booking policies of the properties you approach prohibit confirmation of your booking until you reach the magic 90-day threshold (and sometimes it can be a 30-day threshold).  Learn the philosophy behind this policy, which is called yield management, rather than resisting it.  It will help you in your approach to booking the space and guest rooms you need if you understand it.

Regardless of your choice, a personal site inspection before your book is important!

Without a site inspection visit before making a final decision about the city, venue or facility for your upcoming event, it is impossible to judge the current condition of a property and surrounding area and whether or not it will actually meet the unique requirements of your group.  You may find unhappy surprises upon arrival that would never be visible from a brochure or a virtual tour.  A site visit can be a simple one-hour appointment with a sales contact for a tour of a property if you already know the area, but a more extensive visit to experience first-hand the accessibility of the site and the surrounding neighborhood will be important if the area is unfamiliar.

If the properties you are considering for your meeting or event are out-of-town and it is not feasible for you to personally inspect them yourself, recruit a volunteer you trust from the local area to conduct a site visit for you.  If necessary, a Destination Management Company from the region can provide this service for a fee.  Whoever visits the site must be detail-oriented and have a clear understanding of the critical things to look for, both large and small.  Be sure the person chosen is well equipped with a thorough site inspection checklist that includes every detail to be checked and noted.  Notes taken during the visit must be comprehensive and accurate to make a recall of all important details possible.  Without the checklist, the inspection will not be completed and documented properly and a decision could be made to book based on the inadequate or misleading information.  See also the topic Before You Book for more related info.

About Mobile Star and AAA Diamond Ratings –

The Mobile Travel Guide Star Ratings and the American Automobile Association (AAA) Diamond Ratings are the two most recognized ratings for the hospitality industry.  The greater number of stars or diamonds, the higher the quality of amenities, service, and environment.  All aspects of the hotel’s physical property, services and amenities are considered.  Professional inspectors are sent by both organizations to conduct personal, often unannounced, site inspections before a rating is approved. Only hotels are rated by Mobile and AAA.  There may be different rating organizations that would apply to Bed & Breakfast and Unique Venue categories.

Site Inspection Checklist

A site inspection checklist of standard items that must be verified when visiting cities, lodging venues, meeting event venues, and exhibit facilities is provided for you here.  There will be items you can delete and others that need to be added to cover the unique needs or requirements of your group.  If you are to avoid unhappy surprises when your group arrives, a personal site inspection of venues and support services in advance of booking is critical!  You will need the thorough checklist to ensure you remember every detail to verify when conducting a site inspection.  It will be impossible for you to do the job correctly without it.

If you are unable to make site inspection visits yourself as the meeting or event coordinator, be certain that the volunteer who goes in your place is well versed on the importance of a focused site visit and is well equipped to conduct one.  It can be very costly to your organization if critical items are overlooked during a site visit that will have to be corrected after a contract has been signed.

An example would be confirming a booking with a hotel because of the impressive size of the ballroom only to discover later when the audiovisual team becomes involved that the low chandeliers in the ballroom will prohibit use of the audiovisual cameras, lighting and other equipment needed for set-up and filming of the keynote speaker’s address and the special effects for the extravaganza on closing night.

Site Selection Timeline Intro

The timeline for site selections will vary depending on the type of site you are considering.  If selecting a convention center for a large trade show, decisions about the city, the center, and hotels in close proximity will have to be made anywhere from 2 to 10 years in advance.  The selection of other venues and services to support the event would not begin until you are within 18 or 12 months of the event.

The smaller the function, the later the site selection process can begin as a general rule.  However, if your heart is set on booking a favorite spot for your conference or event, inquiries into availability and booking policies should take place as soon as a date has been set.  The size of your group, function space requirements and overnight guest room needs will determine how far in advance a property will confirm your booking.

The first step to creating a timeline is to consider how far in advance you are at this moment from the start date of the conference or event.  If you are only weeks away, your timeline will have to be compressed significantly and each task prioritized differently than if you have three, six, twelve months or more to prepare.  If you are planning a large conference, your timeline will need to be staggered.

About sample documents

The PDF, Excel or Word documents provided by Planning Helper are meant to serve as examples to give you a head start in streamlining the planning and coordination process for your own purposes.  The content and formulas must be changed to apply to the unique needs of your group. Please take a moment to review Planning Helper’s Terms of Use.

Detailed instructions on how to set up a comprehensive event timeline with both main and sub-categories are outlined in the Overall Event Time Line.  Sub-categories may not always be required in timelines for smaller events or single areas of responsibility within a large event.

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