by Lisa Grimaldi | December 01, 2005


Convention services managers typically oversee myriad events and work with dozens of planners. The professionals profiled by M&C say they see clients make the same mistakes over and over, regardless of the size and purpose of the meeting. Following are the top planner missteps along with expert tips on how to avoid them.

Not enough turnaround time. Melissa LaBarbera, CMP, director of convention services at the Fairmont Chicago, says planners typically factor in 15 minutes between agenda items, which does not give the convention services staff adequate time to set up the room for the next session or function. Optimum time, she says, is two hours, but that’s not always realistic. A better solution: Allow at least a half-hour.

Missed marketing opportunities. Lisa Russi, CMP, director of meetings and conventions at the San Francisco Hilton, recommends asking CSMs for marketing ideas. “We have a lot of tools at our disposal we can personalize attendees’ televisions to include info on meetings and sponsors; we can have telephone operators answer attendees’ phones with a message or name, etc. Additionally, we can give you ideas for sponsorship opportunities we pick up so many from all the different meetings we handle.”

Inaccurate attendee counts for sessions. “Planners need to figure out how much they space they need for different sessions as soon as possible perhaps offering advance online sign-up so we can give them the correct size rooms,” says Russi. This not only helps hotels better manage their meeting space inventory, it gives planners an additional point of negotiation, as it can free up unused space for other events the hotel can sell.

Failure to share meeting history. It’s much better to show the hotel what the group’s spending patterns have been in the past; it will give you more leverage, Russi explains, because the property won’t feel like they are taking a chance with your group.

Late involvement of suppliers. Since many companies have preferred suppliers for services such as A/V, destination management and registration, Russi recommends bringing these partners in early and conducting a site inspection together before the event, so everyone can determine equipment needs, layout, etc.

Selling the last rooms from the block. Brent Grimes, CMP, convention services manager at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, says planners always should hold a handful of rooms in their back pocket for last-minute snafus say, a board member who forgot to register. Says Grimes: “My job is to convey how tight we are during the days of the event and let you know when you need to release rooms.”
    If the property is not extremely busy at the the time of your meeting, Grimes says, releasing two weeks before the event is standard. When the hotel is busy, it might be just a week shy of the block cutoff date. “Some planners like to hold them up to the last second. They realize they will have to pay for them even if they end up not using them, but some are willing to take that chance,” notes Grimes.

Cutting site inspections short. Michael Darst, CMP, director of conference management and catering at Loews Miami Beach Hotel, advises planners to take several-day inspections, so they can get to know the city and its attractions, and meet with potential local partners to determine what resources are available at individual properties.
    While inspecting a property, “take some quiet time and walk the hotel by yourself, minus an entourage of hotel personnel or your staff, so it all cements in your mind,” recommends Darst. “Planners get so much information thrown at them during the inspections that they’re like deer caught in the headlights. But if they quietly take it in, the visuals can sink in, and good, specific questions come out from that time alone.” -- L.G.