The Best Ways to Discover the Perfect DestinationMarch 1, 2013

March 1, 2013

The Best Ways to Discover the Perfect Destination

CIT-2013-03Mar-SiteSelection-860x281Site selection used to be easy. There were a few simple ways to approach the task. Nowadays, however, conducting business according to the “new normal” creates new opportunities (and obstacles) for meeting professionals. To discover the best way to perfect the site selection process, we asked the experts.

We’ll start with Mike May, CMP, president of Spear One — a Dallas-based full-service meetings and event planning company, which in January merged with Sunbelt Motivation & Travel, a group incentive travel company founded in 1980 by Bill Boyd, CMP, CMM, CITE.

May, a board member of the In­centive Research Foundation and the Performance Improvement Council of the Incentive Marketing Association, says it’s difficult to ascertain which are the most important criteria to consider during the site-selection process. Goals? Cost? Location? Senior management preference? Amenities?

10 Considerations for Selecting the Perfect Destination

Recognizing the need to identify and address the growing concerns that planners are finding in the marketplace, Destination Marketing Association International’s recommendations are:

1. What matters to your group in terms of cuisine, walkability, off-time pursuits, etc.?
2. Will you fit into the destination? Is there enough space? Small fish in a big pond and vice versa?
3. How will you get there? Assess air access and airlift as well as transportation in the destination.
4. Does the destination’s meetings and hotel infrastructure in terms of overall layout fit your group?
5. Are there enough things to do in terms of fun and unique amenities. Is it safe?
6. What is the lay of the land in terms of the meeting/convention package? Construction?
7. What is the ROI of your meeting in that destination? Affordable?
8. Are they green? Is it important that the city and hotels be environmentally friendly?
9. Does the city have destination appeal? Does it make people want to visit?
10. Is the CVB easy to work with in terms of its sales team, and are they relationship-minded?

May says one has to take everything into consideration. “Site selection is simply not based on any one variable decision, not anymore,” he says.
For May, shorter lead times are muddying the waters at the present. In fact, May observes that the combination of last-minute scheduling and lack of inventory create a recipe for disaster.

“Clients are overwhelmed doing the job of two or three people while on conference calls all day, and trying to stay ahead of 200 emails per day,” he says. “Then, senior management withholds the final budget and delays pertinent decisions that need to be made in a timely manner. Often, at the last moment and with minimal lead time, we are then asked to recommend destinations and venues. The challenge is then compounded further by shrinking hotel availability due to an increase in the number of meetings, and limited new hotel development as we have seen during the last five years,” May says.

For instance, a new Spear One client wants to schedule a sales training conference with only three months’ notice. Normally, the client would contract nine months in advance. But now, May notes that he is scrambling around to find suitable venues.

May explains, “This is all due to the fact that their internal staff is now stretched thin by a sudden growth in corporate sales, team turnover and corporate sourcing restrictions.” He notes that general session space for 250 sales reps and engineers is manageable, but space requirements for a large equipment exhibit eliminate many hotels from the playing field.

“Las Vegas is not an option because the client wants a new destination. So, we’re solving their needs with some flexible space planning at a New Orleans hotel yet to be announced,” May says. “A few large exhibits will be located in the hotel foyer and corridors. This will require extra security measures at night due to the size and value of the assets. Meals will overflow from two smaller ballrooms into a courtyard. And, the French Quarter location delivers good evening activities within walking distance, which was another requirement.”

However, this is not how Spear One usually operates. Instead, the company utilizes a proprietary process for site selection named DDX — Discovery, Design and eXecution.

“This discovery method is first and foremost in our methodology,” May says. “We discover the meeting type, audience demographics, pattern preference, target dates, desired locations, past meeting history, meeting room and AV requirements, and so on. Taking a little extra discovery time always saves our clients time and money in the long run, and it works just as well for corporate meeting planners,” he states. “Even though I would say the company’s goals are always most important, value or budget probably have tied for the No. 1 criteria over the last five years. Then, I would say location and venue quality.”

May successfully used his DDX process for Regus, an international real estate client headquartered in the U.K. Spear One recommended several global venues, but ultimately selected Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas as the most convenient and cost-effective destination for the 100-attendee event.

Recently, Spear One arranged an event for a medical technology client, which generally holds an annual user group training conference of approximately 850 doctors and staff at a major Texas resort. “For 2013, a much smaller, doctors-only conference was held for 160 physicians rather than the hundreds of attendees. “With that decision we were able to upgrade the venue recommendation to The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas instead,” says May, named as the No. 1 large hotel by Zagat Hotels, Resorts & Spas.

The A-to-Z RFP

Al Wynant, CEO of EventInterface, a Scottsdale, AZ-based company that provides innovative Web-based and mobile app software for meeting and event planners, initiates the site-selection process with an extremely detailed RFP of the event.

Wynant, whose background includes managing events from 50 to 125,000 attendees in six countries, says, “In the RFP, we include everything from desired rates to the food and beverage budget, and whatever we think is so important that it can make or break a deal.” Wynant says he also includes: quality of airlift; availability of venues with the appropriate meeting room space/sleeping rooms under one roof; union or non-union; availability and quality of local vendors; local transportation; and area attractions.

Detail is important: “We also instruct on how information is to be presented back to us, ” Wynant adds, “and can even reject proposals that do not meet our stringent RFP response requirements. Although we clearly outline in our RFP what we expect, a very large percentage of venues send back boilerplate proposals.”

Wynant works very closely with the local CVB and makes site visits as needed. “We prefer personal relationships with local reps or onsite sales reps rather than national or regional sales reps based in call centers that support hotel sales,” he says.

“Overall, if we look at the big picture,” Wynant explains, “the three key factors that can make or break a deal for us are: Ability to meet the requirements set in the RFP; the ease of communications with the sales and catering team; and the excellence of service from all levels of staff at the venue.”

One of EventInterac­tive’s most recent meetings was for a software company at the eco-friendly, downtown Scottsdale Firesky Resort & Spa, for 100 attendees. “The meeting was structured as a workshop and networking event, and the selected venue was ideal, offering cozy indoor and outdoor areas,” says Wynant. “Firesky’s setup encouraged networking in smaller groups, which is what the client wanted. The workshop space was bright with updated furniture and featured large windows so everything seemed light and airy. And best of all, service was excellent,” Wynant notes.

Supply and Demand

Michael Patton, CMM, CEO of Pothos Inc., a San Diego-based certified meeting, conference and event management company, reminds us that the improving economy is a positive fact that can have a negative effect on site selection.

“As we’ve witnessed in the past several years, the meetings industry was suffering so much, that hotels were very aggressive in doing what they had to do in order to bring in the amount of business they needed to fill quotas. They were willing to work with meeting planners, acquiesce to concessions, be flexible and consider the dollar amount the booking was bringing in at the time of the scheduled meeting, as well as the future business it might bring in later,” Patton observes. “Now that has changed with some top-name hoteliers flatly saying, ‘We have this amount of rooms at this price, this amount of meeting space, this is the menu, these are the dates available, if interested sign on the dotted line and go and have your meeting.’

“I would say it is not so with hotel groups like Starwood and Hyatt, and the luxury brand hotels. They get it. But a lot of the others don’t. The danger is that everyone is getting placed into one big pot and the amount of business you represent now and into the future may not necessarily have the impact that one would expect.”

There’s still value to be found. Patton advises planners that clients must be flexible. “If they come to me and say we can only meet on this date, in this city, and at this hotel, then they’re going to get hit between the eyes on the cost and have little room for negotiation in terms of concessions. But, if they have some flexibility, and come to my company, let us do our research and our homework, and come up with a selection of possibilities at a good value, they can still get a good deal.”

When Green Is a Requirement

DaVita University Manager Jeanie Kelley has other parameters she utilizes in the site selection process.

Kelley says that DaVita University, the dialysis division of Denver-based DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc., selects destinations based on their specific business needs. “Some of our needs are driven on a very localized level, therefore we look for hotels in that geographic area. For our larger gatherings, we look for locations that will create an experience for our teammates and will be easy to travel to,” says Kelley.

Booking only those hotels that practice green initiatives will do. “At DaVita, we have our own initiative called Village Green that strives to reduce our carbon footprint wherever possible. So recycling, energy efficiency and even healthy eating options are important to us and so is selecting a hotel that embraces those values,” Kelley notes.

Kelley says she finds that most hotels have green programs, including the hotel where they staged a meeting for 1,000 of DaVita’s medical directors. “This particular property clearly had an emphasis on recycling as each of its shared-space receptacles had three compartments for plastics, papers and trash,” Kelley says. “In addition, the hotel provided a large bin in our team’s office, which allowed us to recycle any papers we discarded as opposed to just throwing them away. Also, we see more and more hotels provide water stations as opposed to water bottles, which has such a large carbon impact as we all know.”

When the Golden Rule…Rules

After all is said and done, don’t forget the golden rule: Know your group. Indeed, it can be worth its weight in gold especially for smaller corporate meetings such as the upscale outings that David Weaver of The Rawls Group in Orlando, FL, generally arranges. As a certified succession planner and certified executive coach, his mission is often to advise owners, management and family members of closely held entities on how to ensure they are fully prepared for the succession of their business to future generations of the family or to external buyers. Weaver avoids large meeting-style hotels, to insure that his group doesn’t play second-fiddle to larger groups. Thus, he seeks intimate, award-winning resorts such as Barnsley Gardens Resort in Adairsville, located 60 miles outside of Atlanta, GA. The historic resort, set on 3,300 acres with 160-year-old gardens and luxurious cottages, has made Condé Nast Traveler’s “Gold List” for the past three years and was ranked No. 2 out of 25 Southern U.S. Golf Resorts.

“By holding meetings in the cottages where we were staying, we felt we were in more of a lodge-type setting, much more appropriate for our group of men,” explains Weaver. “High-level executives expect to be pampered, and they are at resorts like this,” says Weaver.

All in all, these relevant suggestions from the experts will help guide planners as they meet the constantly changing landscape of the “new normal” and lead to simplifying the site-selection process in the months ahead. C&IT

Back To Top