One of the first activities in planning an event—after setting the goals and creating an initial rough-cut budget—is choosing the venue.
How are experienced event planners doing that today? Or, put another way: what are the current best practices in event venue selection?
We asked seven top event professionals to share their thoughts, and they provided valuable insights. At a high level, they told us the most common steps in choosing an event venue are:
- Using online booking or venue search tools (such as EVENTup, eVenues, Splacer);
- Developing, sending out, and evaluating responses to RFPs;
- Asking peers about their recommendations and experiences; and
- Doing a site inspection at the finalist venues.
And the key criteria for selecting a venue include:
- Location (attributes of the destination city and venue within the city)
- Prior experience with the venue and personal research notes
- Also, cost
- Commission percentages
- Service level
- Did we mention cost?
Here are the specific responses from seven top event professionals.
CEO and Master Strategist, Strategic Meetings & Events
Typically, event planners send RFPs and tell hotels the space they need and how they want to use it. They tell hotels exactly what they want.
Account Director, Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, Inc.
Planners use many different tools when searching for ideal venues for their events. I've seen many planners go straight to their ideal venue's website, or call directly to obtain information.
Two of the top deciding factors in choosing an ideal venue are date availability and cost. Some planners can focus on location as being their prime driver for an ideal venue.
Although there are many different tools, typically going directly to a destinations website or the website of hotel chains can be the way to gather the information needed to make a decision.
President, Borelli Strategies
Often, planners choose ideal venues based on word of mouth, exposure to the venues at events such as industry meetings and open houses, and recommendations of their network. They also do a lot of "pounding the pavement" themselves to build their databases with information gathered from site visits.
Most seasoned planners are immune to marketing superlatives on websites that list amenities. Every planner has a hundred hard-earned stories that have contributed to their jaded pessimism when it comes written venue details like capacity and design features.
Most decision factors are based on the attendee experience defined by stakeholder goals. It’s naïve to say that commission percentages don’t factor into planners' decision making process, but that has become an even hotter topic in the past two years.
It’s a complicated process that is both science and gut decision making based on the amount of trust a planner has in what they see of the space and what they hear from the venue representative.
Head of Events & Experience, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
In this age of technology, choosing venues has become so much easier. We have a plethora of tools available and currently being utilized including VR walk-throughs, interactive floor plans, venue sourcing agencies, destination marketing organizations (DMOs), and destination/convention bureau support. Technology allows us to short list and assess in the initial planning stages.
We can never afford to let slip the site inspection, as seeing your venue and meeting the team is crucial to the success of your event. I’m yet to meet an event manager who no longer sees this as a vital step.
Budget is critical to what we do and I find subvention/funding or event support via in-kind services is still a major part of the decision making process. Service level is also key to choosing the right venue as this carries through the event to the delegate and inadequate service will impact their experience.
As we grow our events and open them to an international audience, technology and ease of access (i.e. direct flight destinations) are also high on the list of positive factors to consider.
President, Event Heroes
Many planners chose the venue that feels like it best fits the event they are planning. Many factors play into whether the venue is a good fit or not. Now, you can even book a venue over a virtual tour, but does that get you want you need to know?
Many planners use pricing as a key factor in choosing a venue and this again can be a tripping point.
Vice President, Analysis & Insights, Velvet Chainsaw
The key steps events planners use in choosing venues today are:
- Developing a meeting budget before determining the type of venue.
- Using a booking software tool or venue search tool.
- Providing accurate and complete information about meeting requirements and attendee needs.
- Limiting the number of venues being considered.
- Giving venues a reasonable timeline to respond to an RFP.
- Listing meeting historical information if applicable.
- Negotiating at least 10% off the room rate and other hotel costs initially offered by the venues.
Managing Partner, i3 Events
The current state of venue search for many planners is "we will do what has always been done." Some go back to the same city or hotel, while others ask friends, and some get sucked into contracts with venue sourcing tools.
Nine times out of ten, doing it this way is bad for your attendees, because people get sick of the same-old same-old, a friend could steer you wrong, and in the case of sourcing tools, they can be an enormous waste of money.
Those are the "best practices" being used in venue selection today. In part two of this series, these event industry experts will provide guidance on how planners should ideally select venues—the "better practices" than what is commonly done today.