The success of your meeting can depend upon a carefully planned and well executed site inspection. Your ultimate destination and facilities choices must be attractive enough to draw attendance, be symbiotic with your organization’s goals and “character,” and have the appropriate space to comfortably accommodate all activities. An unpopular or ill-equipped location can spell disaster for the meeting you worked so hard to produce.
If you have submitted an RFP (request for proposal) to the convention and visitors bureau (CVB), you are ahead of the game: the specs, food and beverage requirements, goals and objectives have been outlined and explained already. However, if you are making an informational site inspection in order to narrow down the possible meeting destinations before submitting your RFP, there is a lot of pertinent information to be relayed, arrangements to be made, and appointments to be scheduled. It’s a time consuming process which, if you go it alone, requires extensive background research just to determine which hotels are space-appropriate; finding which off-property venues can provide the right setting for your board meeting is another time drain. And how about finding a golf course for your organization’s charity fundraiser?
When it comes to site inspections, the CVB is the best first point of contact. Why spend your valuable time putting together all the pieces of the site visit puzzle when, with one phone call, you can enlist the free-of-charge services of a destination expert to do it all for you? CVBs have comprehensive knowledge of the destination, have planned countless site inspections, and help you find the right fit for your meeting or event through their local expertise and relationships. You can give your specifications and answer questions just one time, use one source for local referrals and recommendations, receive aggregated hotel/venue proposals at your preference and have your hotel appointments, accommodations and transportation arranged for you. In essence, the CVB becomes your planning partner, providing tailored and customized services based on your meeting requirements.
So while using a CVB to assist you in site inspection planning is the best tip of all, here are 10 more to help you have a successful visit!
1. PUT ALL YOUR CARDS ON THE TABLE EARLY
Don’t just request rates, dates and space! Take the time up front to communicate your meeting goals and objectives and fully disclose all your needs to your CVB contact. Give detailed information about the purpose of your meeting, along with the demographic and typical meeting behaviors of your attendees. Don’t wait for the site inspection to begin this discussion — early dissemination of this information gives the destination and venues the opportunity to show you how they can best meet your needs and appeal to your attendees. Let everyone you visit during the site be prepared to WOW you.
2. TAKE TIME TO SIT BEFORE YOU WALK
Site inspections seem to have a familiar flow: meet, shake hands and start walking. It is to your advantage to take time to sit, even for just a few minutes, before you begin at each stop along the way. This gives you the opportunity to set the stage for your expectations, take a look at a map or hotel floor plans, understand the overall “lay of the land” before you begin the tour, and get to know the people you would be working with a little better. It’s also when the property salesperson has the opportunity to ask you detailed questions about the meeting and tell you exactly why their venue is a good fit. If you get a cookie-cutter sales pitch, perhaps your meeting isn’t viewed as all that special.
3. PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR ATTENDEES’ SHOES
Pay attention to the details. Notice what is happening as you receive information before your visit, as you arrive, during the site inspection, as you are leaving, and after you return from the site inspection. As a potential buyer you probably will be treated with kid gloves, so anticipate what your attendees will experience at each stage of the destination/hotel experience. Ask if the treatment you are receiving is standard fare or unique to the site inspection experience. Is the room you are staying in a standard room or has the hotel rolled out the red carpet just for you? The special dinner that has been arranged in the high end restaurant is lovely, but is that where your attendees are likely to eat?
4. MAKE A LIST OF PRIORITIES
Establish ahead of time what is most pertinent to see during the tour and which things you may want to see only if you have extra time. Site inspection time frames seem to expand quickly and after it is over you may realize you haven’t had the opportunity to fully concentrate on the elements that are most important to your meeting. Be sure that you are comfortable with the time allotted to thoroughly view each hotel or venue as well as travel time between locations. Don’t overbook yourself!
5. ENCOURAGE CREATIVITY
You want to be in control of your agenda but you also want to leave some room for a few unexpected surprises. In fact, tell them what you want to see and then say, “feel free to surprise me – show me at least one thing that is unexpected about your product or services,” and see how they rise to this challenge. This will be a good indication of their creativity and how well they’ve done their homework about what might appeal to you. It’s sort of like ordering a good meal that’s exactly what you want but leaving room for dessert.
You might want to work in a little surprise of your own — a quick unannounced stealth site visit aside from your scheduled inspection to experience the true product and service level of any establishment!
6. ADDRESS THE HARD STUFF UP FRONT
Don’t wait until later to talk about the “un-sexy” stuff. Attrition, food and beverage minimums, extra costs of parking, Internet, resort and exercise facility fees are best calculated up front. Some of the most attractive room rates may be offset with hidden fees. Also discuss the time needed for set up or tear down and additional charges that may occur. Best word of advice here: don’t assume anything – ASK.
7. ASK FOR EXAMPLES
If meeting space is particularly important or concerning to you, ask to have a room set to your specifications, right down to the linens and amenities. If you question the exhibit space, ask to see diagrams of how similar sized exhibits were laid out previously. Ask if you can see an average sleeping room and be sure to peek in rooms being serviced by housekeeping along the way. And if you are booking a short-term meeting, ask to meet the key people you will actually be working with and collect business cards. If the meeting is too far out for specific staff to be assigned as your contacts, at least understand the staff structure and staff ratios used to service events.
8. BE GREEN!
Dispense with the paper! Ask ahead of time not to have cards, brochures, maps and other promotional material you already have, or is on the venue’s website, handed to you again during the site. Even better, ask just for what you need or request that all material be presented to you on a thumb drive. What must be collected can be mailed to your office, preventing you from being weighed down during the site visit. You won’t remember half of what you do see, so a camera, video, or recording device is the planner’s best friend on a site. Leave the carry-bag at home (and wear comfortable shoes)!
9. COMMUNICATE YOUR TIMELINES
To avoid the phone ringing off the hook and a full inbox before you’ve even arrived back at the office, make sure everyone understands your decision-making process and timing while you’re on site. If you are looking at additional destinations, or if the board of directors makes the final site decision at their annual meeting, be forthcoming with that information, too. This is the time to clearly define your decision-making process, follow-up needs and expectations.
10. USE THE CVB AS YOUR EXTENDED STAFF
Hopefully, you enlisted your CVB partners to take on the pre-site responsibility of creating and delivering a complete, informative fact-finding visit for you. Once you’re back home, the CVB will continue as an extension of your staff by intercepting and responding to follow-up emails and questions from the hotels and venues, relaying information to the community on your behalf, and ensuring that you receive proposals and/or materials in the manner you desire. It’s the CVB’s mission – and area of expertise — to help you find the right fit for your meeting! To reach out to CVB experts at more than 135 top meeting destinations, visit empowerMINT.com.