February 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February 2001 Current Issue
February 2001 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP


How to find a city that meets the meeting’s objectives, your budget and attendees’ tastes

Selecting the destination to host a meeting can be daunting. Cities come in all shapes and sizes, and mixing and matching the meeting, budget, attendees, and sites to select the perfect location is as much an art as it is a science. What follows are the basic factors to consider.

The reasons for a meeting can help determine the best type of city in which to host it.

A one-day event centered on a focused agenda requires a destination attendees can get to easily, such as a top-tier city in the immediate geographic area. An agenda requiring more thought and interaction among the attendees might call for a more secluded setting, for which a change of planes might not be a deterrent. An annual convention will need a high concentration of quality hotel rooms near a convention center. Incentives require an attractive destination offering lots of leisure activities.

Getting there. In today’s fast-paced world, convenience plays an important yet often overlooked role in the success of a meeting, regardless of its purpose. Consider basic logistics. For example, airports often are 25 or more miles from a downtown area, resulting in additional travel time, especially in rush-hour traffic. Will this be a problem for attendees?

Limited air arrivals and departures in some second-tier cities and resort areas might dictate attendees’ travel schedules. If they are traveling by car, review the expressways and parking availability of the potential cities.

Getting around. Think about timing and season. Meeting in sunny Florida in the spring might be tempting, but spring-break crowds can put off attendees and make traveling difficult.

Research the neighborhoods within a city. While the downtown area might seem exciting, the center city might have deteriorated, requiring some activities to be moved to other vibrant areas that are not easy to get to from the hotels.

The first rule of meeting planning: Know your group.

Attendee demographics. Who are the attendees? From where will they be traveling? If most live in Florida, it would not be wise to schedule the meeting in Seattle.

Are they well-traveled? Do they enjoy large cities? What is the age range, and how do the ages affect expectations of the destination? Will attendees bring guests and/or children along? Do attendees expect planned programs for their guests? How many international attendees will you have? Do they expect time set aside for recreational activities and sightseeing?

Marketing value. The destination is integral to the promotion plan for many meetings. A city’s marketing value, or “sizzle,” can contribute significantly to attendance and registration revenue. Ask yourself, “Will the attendees perceive a benefit in attending this meeting in this city?”

Budget. In addition to staying within your spending limits, consider whether price will influence decisions to attend. For association meetings, an expensive city like New York might turn off some members.

On the other end of the budget, where cost isn’t as much of a consideration, planners can err by being too cautious. At one high-level meeting of CEOs, the room block consisted of the lowest- priced rooms at a resort, booked by a cost-conscious planner. The rooms were not the quality the CEOs were used to, and many felt disappointed, even though they were not paying for the rooms themselves.

Image. You might find a great deal at a posh resort, but will perception be a problem? If the company has let go 20 percent of its work force, this is the wrong time to go to Melbourne, even if it will cost less than Macon.

Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner based in Atlanta.

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