The directive from higher-ups is loud and painfully clear: Save every penny possible without sacrificing quality. But with prices for virtually everything higher today than a year ago, replicating last year’s success at this and next year’s meetings, let alone topping it, will require more creative planning than ever. So where to start?
Begin with the big picture. Consider these 10 tips to save a bundle, then weave through the following pages to discover more savvy ways to cut costs. Learn which group venues are best for minimizing décor expenditures; which airports have surprisingly high-quality and affordable meeting hotels nearby; which destinations are easily accessible by train, and which cities are the best places to slash ground transportation costs simply by walking from venue to venue. Discover the latest in videoconferencing and exhibit booth technology that will help combat rising labor, shipping and travel costs.
The push for affordability is here to stay. Luckily, as this special themed issue of M&C demonstrates, opportunities to save money in smart ways are as prevalent as extra padding in the budget is scarce.
1. Attract sponsors
One way to save is to let others pick up the bill. Sponsorships can strengthen relationships with partners or exhibitors and give them needed visibility in the marketplace. Almost anything can be sponsored: education sessions or tracks, meals, meeting breaks, awards ceremonies, networking lounges, Internet kiosks or rounds of golf. To win financial commitment from sponsors, make the case that your event offers an opportunity for the sponsor to enhance its brand or to reach a target audience. Then entice prospects with perks like access to your attendee list or industry research; free or discounted hotel rooms or meeting registration; invitations to receptions, and opportunities to plaster their logo on anything from banners to key chains.
2. Avoid downtown
|In the suburbs: Westin Lombard Yorktown Center|
Affordable rates can be found without staying at an airport hotel or in a second- or third-tier destination. Book in suburbs or cities near major airports that offer better value than in the bigger, more distant downtowns and that are easily accessible. For instance, the Illinois cities of Lombard or Schaumburg are closer to Chicago O’Hare International Airport than Michigan Avenue; both have first-class meeting facilities with competitive rates, and both are cheaper to get to than downtown Chicago. Same story for Dearborn, Mich., between Detroit Metropolitan Airport and downtown Detroit; or San Mateo or South San Francisco near San Francisco International Airport.
3. Choose local speakers
According to a recent study by the National Speakers Association, the average bill for a keynote address costs 25 percent less if the speaker doesn’t have to travel to the event. Speakers bureau websites typically allow users to search for talent by location, and planners also can consider selecting a local corporate executive, professor or politician. Planners might want to consider speakers during the site-selection process, too. An area rich with orators from the medical field, for instance, might have other assets to offer a medical or pharmaceutical meeting, including a strong base of potential attendees, exhibitors or sponsors.
4. Be flexible with dates
It’s a money-saving cliché, but date flexibility is probably the best leverage planners can have when negotiating with hotels. Groups should look to book in shoulder or off-seasons, or at least on less popular days of the week. The best times vary by location. In Las Vegas, for example, planners can expect to find the best deals in July, August or December. According to M&C’s 2008 Meetings Market Report, autumn is the most popular season for association trade shows; better deals can be had from December to February, or during the summer.
5. Scale back on F&B
|Portion control: Use smaller plates, cups or dishes to artfully limit attendees’ intake.|
An obvious way to save on food and beverage costs is to opt for heavy hors d’oeuvres instead of a plated meal. But planners can be more creative. Shrink portions (and plates, dishes and cups, proportionally), or limit consumption by reducing the length of time allowed for F&B events, or by instructing servers not to refresh coffee or wine automatically. Offering a selection of sandwiches and salads is an affordable way to handle lunch — and more in tune with the way people typically eat than a three-course plated meal at midday.
6. Condense the agenda
Saving money requires some sacrifice, and that could come at the expense of free time, an extra round of workshops or education sessions, or a general session or keynote address that isn’t closely integrated to the mission at hand. Planners who shave half a day off of a multinight program in order to end in the early afternoon on the final day will be able to eliminate the cost of a final dinner, another night in the hotel and breakfast the following morning. The streamlined schedule also will get attendees back in the office sooner.
7. Follow capacity cuts
|Less airlift might mean |
lower hotel rates.
Destinations affected by airline capacity cuts will be scrambling for business, particularly on the days of the week that canceled flights used to run. Cities like Cincinnati; Cleveland; Honolulu; Houston; and Oakland, Calif., have been hit particularly hard by airline cutbacks. Companies within driving distance of such places might be able to negotiate lower rates at hotels if occupancy slips along with available air service, as is expected. Also keep an eye on leisure destinations that might offer good deals as visitor numbers dwindle.
8. Reconsider value brands
|Reinvention: Radisson is retooling to attract business travelers.|
Some midpriced or select-service hotels are asking planners to give them a second look. Radisson Hotels & Resorts, for example, is spending millions on a new ad campaign touting its revamped loyalty program and its Business Rewards packages, which include low rates and other perks. Radisson also teamed up with top chefs and the Culinary Institute of America to overhaul its menus. Holiday Inn has begun rolling out its new brand standards at hotels in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.; the chainwide revamp, which includes new service standards and guest room design, will be completed in 2010. Even Accor’s Motel 6 brand is attempting a rebirth with its aptly named Phoenix prototype design, which brings “European boutique-style flair” to the chain, plus 32-inch flat-screen TVs and in-room Wi-Fi access.9. Embrace tax breaks
Planners can save a lot by meeting in countries that let foreign travelers reclaim value-added tax (VAT). In Mexico, the process is particularly easy. Those who are approved for a VAT exemption (by working with a government-certified coordinator and hotel or venue, and filling out the paperwork) never have to pay the tax at all. The venues simply won’t charge the tax to qualified groups. Effectively, a planner can save up to 15 percent off the meeting’s cost and won’t have to wait six to 18 months to get money back, as is common in Europe.
10. Enlist student help
|Ready to serve: Hospitality students can help planners pull off an event.|
Hospitality students often are required to have hands-on event experience. In Orlando, for instance, University of Central Florida students are available to planners for everything from meeting setup to waiting tables. Hospitality programs exist all over the country, including major meetings cities like Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas and San Diego. Also consider setting up a semester-long or summer internship program for help around the office.