Even experienced meeting planners can grapple with finding a venue offering something new and novel. Nailing down the right venue is one of the most critical components in event planning. After all, who wants to attend your event if you’ve chosen someplace expensive, inconvenient or with bad weather?
Corporate event planners specifically rely on booking the optimal meeting venue. According to an Event Manager Blog survey, 64% of corporate event planners rank venue as their second most important concern, right after innovation.
We spoke with Ryan Morris, vice president of Group360’s Meetings Advisory Division and reviewed the most common ways meeting planners search for their next perfect venue.
Are these tried-and-true methods really serving you and your attendees? Or, is it time to retire these old search practices and replace with ways that are smarter, more efficient, and more on-point?
Online Venue Marketplaces/Directories
Online venue directories and marketplaces are a staple of meeting and event planners around the globe. Unfortunately, they’ve also remained pretty much stagnant for the past 10+ years. While these marketplaces/directories offer a quick and easy way to send out your RFP out to many hotels, they lack the intuition to filter and qualify the best hotels for your event.
Most often, hotels are spammed with irrelevant RFPs that don’t fit their property, while meeting planners are left having to sift, research and follow-up even more once they start receiving unavailability notices from properties.
Without knowing possible rates and availability ahead of time, planners are at a loss right out the gate since most will be the wrong fit.
Do these situations sound familiar?
A meeting planner sends a detailed RFP to 10 hotels with specific meeting space needs, peak room nights, and room budget. Unfortunately, 4 out of the 10 don’t have enough guestrooms or meeting space. The remaining 6 are already at 90% occupancy over the event dates, with a rate range $100+ beyond the budget. The hotels turn down the RFP, stating they are ‘unavailable.’ The meeting planner is back to where they started from, without any results after investing weeks of research and follow-up.
A meeting planner sources a program with minimal peak room nights and meeting space. Optimistic about so many destination options, they select 20 desirable cities, and then send out the RFP to 8 hotels per city, hoping one out of the 160 will be a match. While the planner has several budget parameters to stay within (including airfare, room rates, proximity to the airport), without having a way to evaluate destinations ahead of time, many of the destinations selected are already out of budget. For the next two months, the planner spends most of their day tracking down responses from the 160 hotels, most who aren’t eager to respond to a lead with a 1/160 chance to win the business.
While more likely used by non-traditional meeting planners (such as an executive assistant tasked with planning), online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Travelocity are largely ignored by experienced planners for one reason: They’re useless to group travel.
While they offer a robust list of hotels in every city, OTAs don’t show room rates beyond several months and most certainly don’t offer group rates. While this method has a ton of flaws to begin with, the biggest is fatal to your search: OTAs lack information on meeting space – from size, to type, to layouts, to measurements, to availability. Not to mention, a means to actually book meeting rooms.
OTAs are not accurate, nor efficient for meeting planners. Ditch this method, pronto.
A plain ol’ Google search
As basic as you can get, Google is often used by meeting planners to initiate their search. While great for simple searches, Google doesn’t come close to revealing all the complex data that booking group travel requires. Meeting planners need information on air flight, weather, meeting space capacity, rate parameters, transportation, and hotel and destination amenities.
So, planners are forced to spend time – their most precious commodity – on gathering every detail on their own anyhow. So, why bother? Start smarter with a narrowed, curated list instead of hoping to find the perfect venue among pages and pages of irrelevant search results.
Word of Mouth
It may seem that nothing can trump a peer’s personal knowledge of a venue. After all, what better way to get trusted feedback than from a like-minded meeting planner? Typically, planners turn to their professional network further in the sourcing journey, to validate a potential decision.
However, relying too heavily on another meeting planner’s feedback has major pitfalls. First, their biased information only reflects their meeting, with their specifications, their attendees and their expectations.
Second, don’t jump to conclusions about a destination based on hearsay. Market conditions change constantly. What may have been pricey last year could be an affordable option today. Even meeting planners who are experts in a particular region will not be able to predict market rates or meeting space availability.
Hotel NSO (national sales office)
NSOs can be wonderful partners and can point you to many options that you otherwise would not have been aware of. However, while NSOs have great knowledge about their brand, they are not equipped with real-time availability nor rate expectations and have to turn to local sales teams for this information.
And, remember – the NSO works for the hotel brand, not for you. They have a biased view of markets as they only represent one brand with limited information and control. While they can offer a vast overview of their brand and properties that can fit some of your parameters, it’s up to you to search beyond their brand’s offerings.
The good news: There are several ways to search for your next venue.
The bad news: Most methods are ineffective, biased or missing vital info.
Fortunately, the newest site selection tools dramatically speed up the time it takes to make smart buying decisions. Now, planners can see all the important details (such as market rates, meeting space, guest rooms, distance from the airport, weather, and hotel ratings) BEFORE sending out a targeted RFP.
This means no more wasting time digging through thousands of options, sending RFPs to properties that aren’t the right fit to begin with and following up with uninterested hotels.
Starting with a curated list of properties and destinations that already fit your criteria is the best way to guarantee smart sourcing decisions.
Want to speed up your venue search and easily find meeting space that meets your requirements? Email Ryan Morris at Ryan.Morris@groups360.com to get started.