December 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December 1999 Current Issue
December 1999 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics

By Mike Kabo


Moving 1,000 people to an off-site event takes ingenuity and patience

All plans are in place for a fabulous conference. The only problem you face is how to get 1,000 attendees off site and back safely.

Whether the meeting takes place in New York City or Kansas City, the process can be a nightmare. Moving a large number of people even a short distance requires imagination, good logistical planning and some luck. The following tips should get you started down the right road.

You will need 22 to 25 buses to move the group. This will require you to find a reputable transportation company.

  • Shop around. Talk to hotel and CVB contacts for recommendations. Ask for the company’s best price, and negotiate from there.
  • Check references. Also check driver qualifications, licensing and training. Get a certificate of insurance coverage. Inquire about the type of communications between the dispatcher and drivers (two-way radio, cell phone, mobile phone). Contract for a dispatcher to be on duty during the event.
  • Consider accessibility. Ask if the bus company can accommodate passengers with disabilities.
  • Evaluate the routes. Have the bus company give you its suggestions, then have your hotel or CVB contact double-check them.
    Plan thoroughly for the night of the event.

  • Allow enough time. It would be nice to load everyone at once, but be realistic; the size of the loading area and the natural tendency for people to be late will make this impossible. Set a window for the buses to depart, like 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Also, it might be best to have the buses arrive on a staggered schedule so the venue’s staff is not overwhelmed. Schedule returns the same way but over a longer period, so tired attendees can get to bed early and night owls can dance till midnight.
  • Line ’em up. Space will dictate whether you can have all the buses physically available at the same time. They all, however, should be in a queue ready to move to the first open spot. A representative from the bus company should help with this.
  • Fill ’em up. The buses must be full before they leave. Otherwise, you’ll run out of buses. Have one spot where attendees line up, and have a staffer moving them quickly to the next available bus. Keep a sharp eye on the count as each bus is loaded.
  • Help on hand. When everyone is being picked up from one location, assign at least five staffers and a dispatcher from the bus company to smooth the process. Give one person overall responsibility and a telephone. Have another stand at the door of the first bus, and position one at the head of the line, directing people. When the first bus nears capacity, start the flow of people to the next bus.

    The other two staff members should be positioned at the second bus, ready to control the flow as soon as the preceding bus is full. The staffers from the first bus, once it is loaded, then quickly take up positions to load the third bus, and so on. If many buses can be loaded at one time, the staff should be adjusted accordingly. It should take two to three minutes to load each bus for a casual event. Allow a bit more time for a dinner event where everyone is dressed up.

    When attendees are being shuttled from several hotels, use the same locations for pickup and drop-off. Have staff available for control at each pickup spot.

  • Homeward bound. have buses stop at major hotels, with side trips to secondary properties. Keep the number of pickup and drop-off points to a minimum; people can walk short distances between hotels. Also, have a van or two available throughout the evening; someone always wants to leave early for one reason or another.

    Mike Kabo is president of Solutions Inc., a New York City-based consulting firm specializing in travel and meetings management.

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