Selecting the right location for a meeting may be the most important step in planning a successful event. But you can’t do it over the phone or on the web. In-person site visits are critical to successful site selections.
“If you don’t go, you can’t smell the smells, experience the customer service, and see the chips and nicks in the walls,” said Janet Pickover, owner and president of Site Inspections Plus in Princeton, N.J.
It’s no surprise that Pickover sees things that way. Pickover has more than 30 years’ experience in meeting planner. For the last five years, she has specialized in site selection.
Pickover talked to Travel Market Report about how to approach site selections. In the first of a two-part series, she discusses what to do before visiting a site. Part two will focus on the site visit itself.
Identify the deal breakers
Step one is to prioritize the most important elements of a meeting and, in turn, your priorities in site selection. From there, planners can identify the deal breakers that will eliminate certain choices immediately.
Deal breakers might include mandated use of a union or a non-union hotel or a mandated green policy. “We had a client once who would never allow a flight with a stop. So any meeting had to be in a major gateway,” Pickover said.
“Deal breakers are sometimes unpredictable,” making them easy to overlook, she noted. “I created a document that helps me insure I miss as few as possible.”
Prioritize – beyond the basics
“When I ask planners about their key priorities in selecting a site, they’ll say ‘space.’ But I’m talking about priorities beyond the basics.
“Even if you are talking about space – say you have 20,000 square feet – is it divided? Will there be six breakouts during the meeting? As simple as that may sound, you’d be surprised how often it’s overlooked.”
In establishing priorities, be clear in your mind that “the meeting is not about you,” Pickover advised. “It’s about the attendees, and your venue objectives must keep them in mind.”
Research, research, research
Planners also need to do considerable advance work about the target destination and venue – and about a meeting’s specific logistical needs.
“The more you know upfront, the more likely you are to find the right site,” Pickover said. Planners will need a long checklist to make sure they don’t miss anything, she advised.
A situation that sometimes crops up at the last minute is when you need to ship boxes with materials, but only find out late in the planning process that your venue doesn’t accept boxes until three days before the meeting.
“That could be a big problem,” she said. It is, however, a problem that’s easily avoided with pre-trip advance work about a potential meeting site.
Similarly, a property may tell you that you can’t have a 24-hour hold on a room before the meeting, so you can’t rehearse or prepare the room, she noted. If you learn that ahead of time, and the property won't budge on the rule, you can avoid wasting time on a site inspection.
Plenty of resources
For other research, CVBs are often extremely useful resources, she said. “An excellent one will help with everything from transportation to hotels to activities. If they’re not that helpful, you have to do a lot on your own.”
Web review sites, such as TripAdvisor, are also high on Pickover’s list. Though they are no substitute for in-person site visits, such websites are a valuable addition to the planners’ toolbox, she said, commenting that “we have a forum that we never had before, where we can share our experiences.”
Don’t overlook safety, security
Pickover’s safety and security site selection concerns are related to both natural and manmade disasters. “You have to be sure that everybody will be safe, no matter the emergency,” she said.
The key is “to be in sync” with a hotel’s crisis management program.
“My [safety and security] form is 11 pages long, and sometimes there is resistance from a hotel, but it’s something I insist on.”
“Safety and security are often the missing links in site selection,” said Pickover.
Know before you go
Before packing your bags for a site inspection trip, you should have a solid idea of where the meeting will be held. That way the site inspection serves as validation, and you don’t waste time on non-productive trips.
“You might be choosing from among a few hotels in close proximity. Or you might have to go to two cities in the same state. But you don’t want to make separate trips, if at all possible.”
Next time: The site inspection trip