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Conference Site Selection Tips

Where do you want to take your next event? This blog will give you some important things to keep in mind when you are selecting your city and venue. It will include some tips to help you ask the right questions and make the best decision for you and your organization. These tips will also help you compare several attractive proposals that may have vastly different terms.

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Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB)
First and foremost, you can reach out to a city’s CVB for help with finding venues and circulating an RFP. It is their job to bring business into their city so leverage them as much as you can. I say that with a caveat. Use your CVB but do not rely completely on them. Since it is their job to sell you their city, they may embellish or exaggerate or omit a few details. Do your research and ask friends, members or board members for their advice on a certain city.

Wi-Fi
Most meeting attendees have come to expect free Wi-Fi, and will grumble if it’s not provided. Do your best to secure this in your contract with your venue, but if that’s not an option, and be sure to get price quotes up front. These costs vary widely, though you can often talk the provider down from their standard quotes.

Union Contracts
Make sure to find out when a venue’s union contracts are going to expire, and whether the venues are on good terms with their labor. The last thing you want is to be surprised by a strike. You may even consider including force majeure language in your contract that allows you to cancel without penalty in the event of a strike.

Catering Costs
Popular and well known cities offer a lot of amenities and are attractive to attendees; however, there is more competition for event space, so you often won’t have competitive hotel or meeting room rental rates. Also, cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Boston can have much higher rates for coffee, labor, and etc. For a meeting we held in New York City, coffee was $110 per gallon, plus tax and service charge (plus plus). Compare that to Los Angeles where a gallon of coffee was $68, plus plus, or Salt Lake City, where coffee was $40 per gallon plus plus.

Since catering costs vary so widely and are subject to change, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Ask to see catering menus, and ask about standard price increases. As you review proposals, you may be able to convince a venue to hold catering prices at current rates for a meeting a few years in the future, which can represent real savings. A venue with low food and beverage prices but a high minimum can pose a challenge that can have you scrambling to add service to your planned events, in order to avoid paying the difference. Make sure that your planned events will adequately cover the minimum by laying out some sample menus.

Weather
Another important factor to consider are weather patterns at the time of your meeting. You’ll most likely do a site visit at a time other than when you would be holding your event, so make sure to check historical weather patterns for the area so that your attendees are less likely to get stuck in a blizzard or washed away in a hurricane. And do your own research; don’t just take the CVB’s word for it.

Travel
When selecting your venue, it’s important to consider the ease of travel by air, train, car, public transportation, etc. When choosing between two good proposals in different cities, it can be helpful to take a look at where your attendees will come from. You might want to draw a circle on the map with a 200-500 mile radius and see how many of your potential attendees would be within a day’s drive of your proposed city and check nearby parking rates.

WiFi, Union Contracts, Catering Costs, Weather, and Travel are important factors when deciding on a venue. Though this is not a comprehensive list of all the factors to consider, you now have some tips to help you keep costs low and attendance high. Please let us know your tips and stories in the comments!

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Conference Charlie

Conference Charlie

Conference Charlie has worked as a conference director for over 10 years and has planned events for 250 - 8500 people with a micro staff. If you have any questions for Conference Charlie in regards to an event you're hosting or attending, please feel free to post a comment to this blog.
Conference Charlie

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