Has the site inspection process really evolved? San Diego Tourism Authority experts Margie Sitton and Ted File discuss how it has in San Diego and what their unique approach has brought to the meeting planning community.
The site inspection is a critical time in the meeting sourcing process where meeting planners can literally see their program coming to life. During this process, planners will determine whether what they envisioned on paper has the potential to be well executed, attract attendees and please their stakeholders. No small task.
Meeting planners want to be sure they utilize their time wisely to produce the best results. We called in some experts! The team at the San Diego Tourism Authority has revolutionized the site inspection process, and we talk to Margie Sitton, Senior Vice President of Sales, and Ted File, Director of Site Inspections and Conference Services with the San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA) about how they revamped the site experience program in San Diego, and how planners can take control of their own site inspection to ensure their meeting’s success.
When you looked at the site inspection process, what inspired you to want to revamp it and go from a site inspection to more of a ‘site experience’?
Margie: When I first assumed my role at the SDTA in 2008, it was during the Great Recession. That was not a great time for the meetings industry as a whole, and therefore, I wanted to make sure that any planners visiting San Diego for a site inspection would be provided the best possible experience and leave knowing that San Diego is where they had to book their meeting.
I looked with a broader view at how the destination and the hotels handled site inspections and found that the majority of hotels were used to showing off all of their features they were proud of, regardless of the planner’s needs. But it doesn’t matter how pretty a picture a hotel has, if it doesn’t fit the planner’s frame. Hotels and the site inspection team needed to look at what the planner needs are and show them how their property will meet those needs.
Additionally, I wanted to make sure that across the destination everyone was on the same page and aspired to create an experience for the meeting planner with the ultimate goal of winning more business for San Diego. I’m grateful to say our destination partners were eager and more than willing to help implement the successful site experience program it has become today.
When you looked at the whole site inspection process what did you find? What was, in your opinion, the most surprising?
Margie: I think what surprised me the most was how much the hotels, venues, and attractions loved the site experience program we created. There wasn’t one argument about it. They wanted to provide the best possible experience for the meeting planner and we went from a 56% conversion to 86-88% conversion with the new program. Something we couldn’t have done without the buy-in and enthusiasm of those that participate in the site experience program.
One of the features of our site experience program the community really embraced was the site inspection evaluation. At the end of every site, the meeting planner evaluates the hotel sales person at every hotel they visit. The evaluation provides some accountability and responsibility for the hotel sales person to really understand the meeting planner’s needs as well as show how their hotel meets those needs. By the planner giving a hotel sales person a perfect 10, it represents that they did just that.
We then reward those that were given a 10 out of 10. The hotel sales people continue to be excited when they receive a perfect 10 and work really hard to achieve it on every site for every meeting planner.
What do you continue to do to keep the site experience process running smooth while meeting and exceeding planner expectations?
Margie: We are always looking to improve upon what we do here in San Diego. One of the ways we continue to evolve and ensure our success is to continually train and educate the San Diego meeting industry on the site experience program and how to work as a destination to eliminate the traditional meeting planner pain points.
One of the ways we do that is through our “San Diego Meeting Certified” program. This is a training program, sanctioned through San Diego State University’s Hospitality school, for all new hotel, venue, attraction, and restaurant sales professionals. Sales professionals earn MPI and HSMAI credit and complete five sessions that include topics such as “Understanding Customer Needs”, “Conducting a Site Inspection”, and “Unlocking Creativity and Problem Solving.”
We ensure that every sales person at a hotel, venue, attraction, or restaurant that participates in site inspections are trained to provide the best experience possible for the meeting planner.
What advice can you give to planners to take control of their site inspection?
Ted: I think the most important piece is to ensure the convention & visitors bureau is involved from the start of the planner’s request for proposal (RFP). The CVBs are destination experts and not only assist with the coordination of a site, but they really get to know what the planner’s needs are and can act as a consultant and advisor by providing in-depth knowledge of the destination. The CVB provides an unbiased opinion of what hotels best fit the planner’s needs and works to find the best fit for the meeting.
Additionally, prior to their visit, I encourage meeting planners to have some contact with the hotel sales person at the locations they will be visiting. Planners will want to be sure and discuss what their critical buying factors are and that the sales person will address those concerns on the site.
The last thing a planner wants to do is to walk in to a hotel and find out they have 12 ft. ceilings when they need 14 ft. ceilings. Hopefully all of those critical buying factors will be addressed prior to the site.
To hear more from Margie and how you can get the most of your site inspections, be sure to attend our upcoming April webinar, “10 Stupid Things We Do to Mess Up Our Site Inspections,”.
To research a destination and connect with a destination consultant in over 150 of the top meeting destinations in the country, visit www.empowerMINT.com.