by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | April 01, 2006

Performing a site inspection - a thorough, in-person review of a potential meeting venue and/or destination - is one of the most critical aspects of planning. Following are some tips on how to get the most out of the experience.

Back when big events were planned a year in advance, three site visits were considered ideal: one year out (to determine site), six months out (to check on site conditions again) and one month out (for the final once-over).
    Today, planners are lucky to manage a site visit several months before the event, in some cases after the contract is signed.

Typically, the planner contacts the sales representative at a property to arrange the inspection date and time. On property, the tours generally are conducted by the convention services manager, who will be coordinating all of the different hotel divisions (food and beverage, billing, housekeeping, perhaps even security) for the event.
    Who pays for these fact-finding missions? While some hotels will cover the cost (room and tax fees), accepting anything else should be up to your company’s policy and personal discretion. Many hotels will credit the hotel room cost once you sign a contract.

What to look for on site? Start with the meeting space. Does the property have enough to fit your needs? Are there any obstructions? Does the sound “bleed” from one room to the next? (Try one of these old planning tricks: Remove your shoe and see if your toes fit under the dividing walls of meeting rooms. Or, turn all the lights out on one side of the dividing wall; if light bleeds through the floor or sides onto the dark side, there is a good chance the sound will bleed through, too.)
    Next, inspect the guest rooms: Are they appropriate for the group? Is the quality and size of rooms consistent, or is there a great variation?
    Note: A visual inspection might not tell the whole story. It is always better to spend the night in a room, so you can determine the comfort of the beds, water pressure, noise levels, etc.

Come to the site inspection armed with the following: a comprehensive checklist, a list of the meeting’s goals and objectives, and a spec sheet that includes all pertinent information on your company, the event in question, room needs, F&B requirements, etc. You’ll need to reference this data as you do your walk-through. If the information is not proprietary, it might be helpful to provide the property with copies of these lists prior to or during your visit.
    And be sure to bring a notebook and a digital camera to share information/images with your team and any other stakeholders.

Other aspects to investigate include asking if the property complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act. In addition, how clean are the air-conditioning vents in the guest rooms? In what condition are the hallways, elevators, kitchens and public bathrooms? How visible is security? What is the general demeanor of the housekeeping staff?
    Finally, don’t forget to ask the CSM: What is the ratio of employees to guests? What were the most recent upgrades to soft goods (furnishings) and structure of the venue? Will any construction be taking place before or during the meeting on or near the property? If yes, and you still want to use the hotel, be sure this is written into your contract with a no-penalty out and reimbursement should construction disturb your meeting in any way.