by Kevin Iwamoto | September 6, 2016

Kevin iwamotoWhen planners are tasked to cut costs, eliminating a meeting should be the very last resort. In my years of experience, and now as a senior consultant for GoldSpring Consulting, which specializes in business travel and meetings, I’ve learned lots of ways to save money. Here are a dozen relatively simple strategies to make gatherings more affordable.

1. Meet in the suburbs
Change locations from downtown to just outside of the city. If you are planning to meet in a high-cost city like New York or San Francisco, for example, choose a nearby alternative if you need to bring the cost down and haven’t yet committed to a venue. In the case of New York, you could move it to Weehawken, N.J., or if in San Francisco, relocate near the airport area or across the bay in Oakland, Calif. You will be surprised at the savings.

2. Make getting there easy
Select a local venue where participants can commute daily. It helps if the site is adjacent or within walking distance to a train or subway station. For cities that don’t have major commuter transportation readily available, select suburb or airport venues where there’s ample free or reduced-rate parking for attendees who are driving.

3. Seek out free rides
If you hold your meeting in an airport venue or resort area, check out any possible complimentary venue transportation, whether shuttles, buses or trains.

4. Shorten the agenda
Shave a day — or a half-day — off the schedule, cutting hotel expenses as well as a meal or two.

5. Get creative with the calendar
Be very flexible with your dates. Ask other departments in your company or your preferred suppliers if they have any canceled space they need to fill. Moving your meeting by just a few days or weeks can result in significant savings. Find out the shoulder seasons for hotels under consideration, as those dates are the most cost-effective. Hotels and venues will have a greater desire to fill the space for such dates and likely be more aggressive in offering attractive pricing and added amenities.

6. Consider a suite solution
Use suites or villas where attendees can comfortably double up, have their own rooms and bathrooms, and share the common areas. Depending on the size of your meeting, you can even conduct the gathering itself in one of the accommodations. Suites, villas and deluxe rooms can be configured to hold a small meeting. And instead of renting expensive A/V, you can use the HDMI connection ports in the suite’s flat-screen TV to hook up your laptop and display meeting presentations via the TV.

7. Copy first
Do all required photocopying and duplication of handouts and other documentation internally before the meeting, and ship it inexpensively. Better yet, go green and make the meetings paperless; just have attendees download presentations and collateral to their smartphones, laptops and tablets.

8. Double up for a discount
If your meeting is a series type or repetitive, host it at the same venue and ask for additional pricing discounts, amenities, etc., as a reward for your faithful patronage.

9. Eliminate breaks
If the venue allows, you can replace hosted breaks inexpensively by purchasing snack items in bulk at Costco or Target, and stuffing goody bags with candy, fruit, granola bars, nuts, etc. Place them at each seat for attendees.

10. Go light on libations
Instead of a hosted open bar, control alcohol costs by giving out drink tickets — no more than two per person. This also ensures you’ve incorporated duty of care for attendees by limiting alcohol consumption.

11. Skip a meal
Eliminate one hosted meal like a lunch or dinner, and make that time available for attendees to go out on their own, network and/or create their own agenda. Or, change one dinner to a cocktail reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres. The cost is much lower, and attendees enjoy the informal atmosphere.

12. Ask your peers
You can get more affordable meeting ideas and suggestions by posting questions in various social media discussion forums. The wealth of knowledge and experience that the meeting planning community openly shares is extremely generous. For lots of great advice that planners shared with M&C, go here.

Kevin Iwamoto is senior consultant at GoldSpring Consulting. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinIwamoto.