In part 1 of this series, we asked a group of top professionals how event planners most commonly go about selecting venues today. They shared their observations about current practices.
For this post, we asked for their expert guidance: How should event planners choose the ideal venues for their events? (presuming they should be doing anything differently)?
While most planners already do a very good job of choosing venues, these experts shared a wide range of insights, tips, and suggestions to help raise the bar further.
Among the more commonly cited recommendations for optimizing the venue selection process are:
Start with the overall goals and objectives of your event. Choose a venue that will collaborate with you to achieve your strategic objectives, not merely meet your logistical needs. Also keep in mind the needs of your attendees, not just your own priorities; for example, if your event will attract an international audience, proximity to a major airport is vital.
Use online tools to help. Venue search tools like Splacer and Peerspace, visualization tools like AllSeated, even plain old Google Search can all be helpful early in the selection process to help narrow the list of choices. Check social media sites for reviews and comments.
But don't rely only on technology. Convention & Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) can save a lot of time and legwork. Their local knowledge can be invaluable, particularly when planning an event in an unfamiliar city. Once you have your short list, site visits are indispensable.
These experts offered a number of unique tips as well, such as:
- Identify your non-negotiable, "must have" elements up front—and stick to these.
- Leverage your network. You probably know a lot of people who know a lot about venues.
- Sustainability is a big factor for attendees. Ask your prospective venues about their practices.
- Consider "cost" comprehensively; not just the space, but also labor, outside vendors, transit, and parking.
- Don't forget to check out the restrooms. Their size, cleanliness, and accessibility will impact the overall comfort and experience of your guests.
Here is the detailed guidance from eight top event industry professionals, in their own words.
CEO and Master Strategist, Strategic Meetings & Events
Event strategists know that they can only begin searching for the ideal venue after they have confirmed the event’s goal with key decision makers as discussed in their Discovery Session.
From there, an RFC (request for collaboration) vs. the customary RFP (request for proposal) should be sent to venues. Sharing traditional information including pickup history and F&B spend is important, but the key distinguisher is sharing the goals the event must achieve and inviting the hotel to collaborate on how their venue can best host—not hold—your meeting.
The difference is significant. Planners are often frustrated that others imagine their job takes no expertise, yet they tell hotels exactly what they want. Why not let the hospitality experts elaborate on how their space can best be utilized to partner in achieving your goals?
For instance, you may imagine you need eight concurrent breakouts that attendees rotate through with two of the sessions listed as "open time" for networking. The hotel may see this and instead offer use of their rooftop garden for people to pick vegetables and/or herbs that the chef will serve at a meal that day. It cuts down on your breakout room needs, creates a team-bonding experience, and adds a bit of fresh air, nature, and activity into the program.
Or perhaps you see the pool area as the perfect spot for the welcome reception, but the President’s Suite has magnificent views and cuts down on lighting and rental furniture budgets. Any hotel can say they want to partner with you. Select a hotel that best demonstrates a true desire and willingness to partner with you on achieving your goals and whose staff wants to host your guests, not simply hold your meeting. That’s one of the many examples of how strategists differentiate themselves from planners—and why it matters.
Account Director, Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, Inc.
Planners should keep their overarching goals and objectives in mind when choosing ideal venues for their events. Additionally, there are basic factors that come into play, like location, costs, and date availability. I find that knowing what my non-negotiable items are can go a long way to helping find a venue. Standing firm on the items that mean the most to your event is key to ensure that you ultimately get what you are looking for.
Also, taking advantage of the search tools available in online registration software, CVB's, and other meeting industry search engines can help make obtaining any quotes you need more efficient.
Finally, leverage the power of your network or your organization's network. Planners should take advantage of the resources that convention service bureaus can offer, or national sales managers within hotel brands. When used correctly, these connections can give you leverage where you need it most.
President, Borelli Strategies
Planners should probably be using software such as AllSeated that offers 2D,3D, or even VR environments to check out the scale of venues before or (sometimes) instead of a site visit. Platforms like these save time and make for better apples-to-apples comparisons.
Planners should be looking at areas like sustainability practices and inclusive designs as much as more standard inquiries like egress and power outlet availability.
Head of Events & Experience, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
I believe event planners are astute and quick to adopt the new technologies available to help us identify suitable venues and destinations. But we are a profession driven by face to face, and I’ve yet to meet an even planner who doesn’t value an in-person site visit as the most important aspect in choosing a venue.
President, Event Heroes
Every event planner knows the three most basic criteria in venue selection are price, size, and availability. But there is more to these "basics" than meets the eye, and planners should look at these factors comprehensively.
Cost: There is far more to cost than just the contractual pricing of the space. For example, how much decor work and materials will be required to make the space presentable? What about labor--can you use your own, or are you required to hire expensive union workers?
Also consider the cost of outside vendors. Many venues will charge you a percent of the cost of an outside vendor. For example, if they have an in-house AV provider and you prefer to work with your AV vendor, you might be charged a percentage or flat fee to bring in the vendor of your choice. Watch the contract for this clause and check the facility fees against the percentage of the cost to bring in your own vendor.
Availability: Of course the venue needs to be available during your event dates, but what about load in / load out time—how soon can you get started with set up, and when does your last strip of gaffers tape need to be removed? This will impact what your decorators and A/V crew will be able to do.
Also, what's going on around your event? Are there other events in the venue? Will you hear their event over yours? How well do the walls between the rooms cancel the sound? How will this affect traffic flow, parking, and loading docks?
Venue size: Of course the venue must be large enough to accommodate your planned number of attendees, but there is more to space than just size. What about parking—is it easy, convenient, and free (or at least not too costly)? Do you plan on hanging something from the ceiling? Make sure the structure will hold whatever it is you're planning on hanging, and that the ceiling will work for your plans.
Also, I always suggest taking someone from your AV and décor crew you with for your site visit. There are lots of questions they will have about power, loading docks, marshalling yards etc. that you will need to be able to tell them after the venue is booked.
And one last thing: are there enough restrooms for your guests during the event? Are they clean and well lit? How do you feel about them? Restrooms are a critical part of your event and the comfort of your guests.
Vice President, Analysis & Insights, Velvet Chainsaw
Ideally, when choosing an event venue, planners should:
- book venues that make it as convenient and cost-effective for attendee travel as possible;
- use social media and any other sources for reviews of the venues, quality and ratings, customer feedback, etc.; and
- get input from all stakeholders, especially the ultimate decision maker on the client side, before contracting with the venue.
CEO & Creative Director, Naif Productions
When searching for the right venue, one of the best tools we use is to contact the Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) in the city where the client wants to host their event. Most of our clients host their events all over the country and internationally. The CVB will save you a tremendous amount of time, especially when you might not be familiar with the venue options in specific cities.
We send the CVB a detailed Request For Proposal (RFP). The CVB will then send it out to all the venues that match the requirements of the RFP. It’s important that your RFP is extremely detailed, with specific instructions, so you don’t get a lot of back and forth with each location. For example, we ask for AV contact information and menus as well so we can get an AV quote and price out what the actual food and beverage (F&B) costs will be. We want to make sure the F&B minimum does not exceed what our actual spend F&B will be.
There are many venue research sites out there such as Peerspace.com, Splacer.com, Bizbash.com, and blace.com, but we find the CVB to be the best option for our needs.
When making decisions about the best venue option, most often it will come down to cost. However, clients will also base their decision-making process on things like proximity to the airport, the right amount of space, the number of breakout rooms available, the sleeping room rate, and date availability, to name a few other important factors.
Managing Partner, i3 Events
What matters most when choosing a venue is the low-tech art of the site inspection. Planners need to make a list of the top things that are important to their attendees. Do they take public transportation? Then you better be near the subway. Are they flying in international? Then you should be convenient to the airport. Are they disabled? Then you should pick the venue that is the most ADA-friendly.
Does the venue have enough power outlets, restaurants, is it clean, are the windows washed, is the bell stand attentive? Does it smell funny? These are all items that go into picking a venue that attendees will love.
The easiest way to learn about a new destination is right at our fingertips. Being an uber-tech guy, some might find it surprising that what we find most useful is to take the easy way out. We chose the city, then the area of the city, and then we search for a venue.
To give you an idea, if I choose Chicago, and then the West Loop, all I have to do is Google "Chicago West Loop Meeting Space" and boom, up they pop. You can also change the search to "Chicago West Loop Hotel" and zap, all of the hotel venues you could ever want appear. From there we can narrow down the choices to our top five, and go on site inspections. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, and it doesn't add additional expenses to the bottom line.
Those are the "better practices" that top event experts advise planners to use for venue selection today. In part one of this series, seven event industry experts outlined current practices. Again, most planners already do a very good job of choosing venues—but the insights, tips, and suggestions above can help them do it even better.