As a meeting planner, you have a lot of decisions to make when planning an event, including picking the appropriate hotel and meetings venue, selecting the right food and beverage offerings, hiring the best speakers and sourcing good transportation services. But none of that can be put into place until you’ve chosen the right destination for your meeting. And with so many great cities to pick from, finding the right destination to suit your group can seem like quite a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be! By keeping some key things in mind and asking yourself the following questions, finding the right city for your meeting might just get a whole lot easier – and be more fun!
1. What Matters To Your Group? Before combing the countryside for your perfect meetings destination, figure out what is most important to your attendees. Do they crave gourmet restaurants or will cheaper meal options suffice? Is walkability important or would they not mind being shuttled from place to place? Do they care about culture or would mainstream attractions be more appealing? Do they want to meet in a regional destination or is traveling long distances not a problem? Once you’ve gotten a better picture of your attendees’ tastes and preferences, you can start whittling down your options to a smaller group of cities that fit their criteria.
2. Will You Fit Into the Destination?
Not every group is good for every city no matter how popular a destination may be, so that’s why it’s important to pre-qualify cities to see if your group would be a good match. For instance, does the destination have the right physical space to meet your needs, such as a convention center with sufficient square footage and enough hotel rooms? Would your group prefer to be the focus of attention in a smaller city or would being a small fish in a larger destination not be an issue?
“Ask yourself, do you want to own the town or are you okay with being one of many?” asks Leonard Hoops, president & CEO of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. “Some groups want to be the big fish in a smaller destination while some don’t care, they just want to be in a first-tier city and the destination appeal makes it worth it.”
3. How Will You Get There and Get Around? Make sure to evaluate the city’s air access and airlift capabilities, especially in relation to the key markets your attendees will be coming from. Will getting to that particular city be easy or complex? What are the airline ticket price points? Are the flights direct or non-stop? In addition, consider the transportation costs within the destination itself. Does the city have mass transit or light rail or will attendees have to spend money on cabs to get from place to place? More destinations are focusing on being walkable, so if this is important to your group, narrow down your search to cities where hotels, convention facilities, restaurants and other amenities tend to be concentrated in one centralized area.
4. What Is the Meetings and Hotel Infrastructure? Many destinations can boast some great hotel and meetings products but those offerings don’t mean anything if they’re not the best fit for your attendees. Whether you’re planning an in-house meeting at a hotel or an event at a convention facility, understand the spaces the city has to offer. How are a hotel’s meeting spaces arranged in proximity to the guest rooms? Does the layout of their convention facility work for your particular event? How far are the hotels from the convention center and are there walkways that connect them? Think about where your group has stayed and met in the past, what they liked most and least, then compare and contrast (for a quick map of hotels and convention centers at each destination, go to empowerMINT.com).
5. Are There Enough Things To Do? Find out what the destination has to offer when it comes to fun, interesting and unique amenities outside of the meeting space, including restaurants, culture, entertainment and outdoor activities. Does the city offer something you can’t find in any other destination? Is everything conveniently located from the hotel properties and are they within walking distance? If so, is the city safe to explore on foot, especially in the evening hours?
6. What’s the Lay of the Land? Find out what the city has done to improve its infrastructure for conventions and how its overall convention package lays out. How close is everything situated? Are all their attractions downtown or are there pockets of entertainment options throughout the city? Consider any construction and development projects going on in the destination and understand how they might impact your event.
7. Is It Worth the Expense? Understand the overall value and cost of holding a meeting in that destination. Would you be better off going to a more affordable city that may not attract as much attendance but will cost you less to do business? How price-sensitive are your attendees and will they shy away from more expensive cities?
“What is the ROI of your meeting to that destination?” says Tamela Blalock, formerly national sales manager of Team San Jose, now Manager, Consulting Services, Courtesy Associates. “If your meeting is of average attendance of 2,000 and smaller, a tier-one city may not necessarily fit your meeting as great ROI, where a tier-two city would treat you like the king. Also, affordable does not mean cheap. There are now two types of cities: expensive and affordable.”
8. Are They Green? More and more cities are taking the environment very seriously and extending this consciousness to their meetings and convention business. If holding an earth-friendly meeting is important to your group, narrow down your search to cities that have green programs in place, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified convention centers and environmentally minded hotel properties that walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
9. Does the City Have Destination Appeal? There’s something to be said about destinations that make people want to visit. And although nothing beats the broad appeal of first-tier cities, many second and third-tier cities can also have a their fair share of allure. When researching a lesser-known destination, ask about its culture, its industries and what makes it unique and special – you might be surprised!
“You can’t get around the fact that there has to be some sort of destination appeal for that specific group,” says Hoops. “Planners will talk about the cost, the logistics and the infrastructure but at the end of the day a city has to have some level of destination appeal for their particular audience or they aren’t coming.”
10. Is the CVB Easy To Work With? Does a CVB have a sales team that you can work with and trust? Do they appear interested in building a relationship with you or are they just working to close your business? Observe the sales staff’s attention to detail and initial follow-up, as that can say a lot about what it will be like to work with them later on, advises Nathan Tollett, director of sales for Visit Houston.
“Do they ask the right questions and are they good listeners?” asks Tollett. “Do they have ten good reasons why you should hold your meeting there that make sense? Will they help you analyze what’s important to you and your attendees? If they’re willing to invest all that time, energy and resources on the front-end, the assumption is that will translate through the entire process.”
Whether your group is looking for a large and popular destination or a quieter, more compact city, by taking the time to ask yourself these questions while leaning on the destination experts –Convention and Visitor Bureaus – to guide you through the process, you’re sure to find the perfect destination that will set the stage for a positive, memorable and successful meeting experience. And that’s the best ROI of all!