Nailing down the right destination and venue is one of the most critical components in event planning. After all, who wants to attend an event if it’s being held somewhere expensive, inconvenient, or plagued by inclement weather?
Corporate event planners specifically rely on booking the optimal meeting venue to boost attendance and meet their event goals. According to an Event Manager Blog survey, 64% of corporate event planners rank venue as their second most important concern, right after innovation.
But even experienced meeting and event planners grapple with finding a venue that offers something unique and novel. You might find yourself relying an all-too-common sourcing methods that take up a frustrating amount of time without revealing the best-fit venues for your group.
Are these sourcing habits serving you and your attendees? Or is it time to retire these old practices and replace them with new ways that are smarter, more efficient, and more on point? Let’s take a look.
1. Online venue marketplaces and directories
Online venue marketplaces and directories are a staple of meeting and event planners around the globe. Unfortunately, they have also remained pretty much stagnant for the past decade or so. While these marketplaces offer a quick and easy way to send out your RFP to many hotels, they lack the intuition to filter and qualify the best hotels for your event.
All too 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 responses notifying them of a property’s lack of availability.
Without knowing possible rates and availability ahead of time, event planners are at a loss right out of the gate since most hotels will be the wrong fit.
Do these situations sound familiar?
A corporate event planner sends a detailed RFP to 10 hotels with specific meeting space needs, peak room nights, and room budget. Unfortunately, four out of the 10 don’t have enough guest rooms or meeting space. The remaining six are already at 90% occupancy during the event dates with rates more than $100 over the event planner’s budget. The hotels turn down the RFP, stating they are unavailable. The meeting planner is back to square one 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 eight hotels per city, hoping one out of the 160 will be a match. While the event planner has a budget and key parameters, including airfare, room rates, proximity to the airport, without having a way to evaluate destinations ahead of time, many of the selected destinations are already out of budget. For the next two months, the meeting planner spends much of her day tracking down responses from the 160 hotels, most of whom aren’t eager to respond to a lead with a 1/160 chance to win the business.
2. Online travel agencies
While more often used by nontraditional event planners such as an executive assistant tasked with planning a meeting, online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Travelocity are largely ignored by experienced planners for one reason: They’re useless for booking 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 more than nine meeting rooms.
OTAs are not accurate nor efficient for meeting planners. Ditch this method, pronto.
3. An old fashioned Google search
A Google search is as basic as you get, an approach that event planners use 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 flights, weather, meeting space capacity, hotel rates, transportation, and hotel and destination amenities.
Event planners end up having 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.
4. 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, corporate event planners turn to their professional network further into 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.
5. A hotel’s national sales office (NSO)
NSOs can be wonderful partners and can point you to many options that you otherwise may have been unaware of. While NSOs have great knowledge about their own brand, they aren’t equipped with real-time availability or rate expectations and have to turn to local sales teams for this information.
And, remember — the NSO works for a particular hotel brand. They naturally 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’s properties, it’s up to you to search beyond their brand’s offerings.
A new way forward
While there are several ways to search for your next venue, the bad news is that most of these methods are ineffective, biased or missing vital info.
The newest site selection tools dramatically speed up the time it takes to make smart buying decisions. Now, event planners can see the most important details, such as estimated future market rates, meeting space, distance from the airport, climate and 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.