Corporate meeting and event professionals work long hours, late nights and weekends. We’re always in quest of the perfect destination, the ideal program, looking for the “the next great idea”. Or as one former colleague used to say, “We’re all just a bunch of adrenaline junkies” because we love the rush that comes from making our clients smile.
One of the great periodic perks in our biz is the opportunity to travel to enviable locations and work at luxurious five-star properties. The perfect destination, right? Well, maybe so but your personal idea of the perfect destination may not always be the right destination for your client and attendees. And here’s why …
While we all enjoy letting the creative juices flow when it comes to program design, learning objectives, cutting-edge production and training techniques, social activities, décor, entertainment, amenities, etc., a lot of what we do is very nuts & bolts by necessity. We are responsible for budgets, spreadsheets, critical timelines, room blocks, F&B planning, transpo manifests, etc. It’s that ol’ accounting & accountability thing that keeps us busiest on top of everything else. But the goal is always to over-deliver on program goals in a perfect setting that suits the group.
Reality is our clients have limitations on how far they can travel, how much they can spend, how much time they can devote to a project, and likely a mandate from Senior Leadership to not only deliver a fantastic program but do it on-time, on-budget, with critical messaging on-point, fully implemented and producing measurable results. Additionally, we have to be sure enough of the right people attend and actively participate in our program.
This is especially true for franchise enterprises, user groups, and trade associations. Unlike a command-performance audience of fulltime W2 employees at a corporation, attendance at events held by these types of groups is entirely voluntary.
Thus, you’ve got to make sure all the right ingredients are being stirred into the mix at the right time and in the right amounts to motivate people to spend the time and money to attend. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when you’re burning the midnight oil and trying to find the right destination for your upcoming program …
Book it and they will come …
Begin by assessing your group’s day-to-day operating footprint. Will attendees be traveling primarily from one coast or the other, are they contained regionally, or scattered all over the map?
Further, consult with your client and identify who and where the power players are, the ones you absolutely have to have in attendance because they are critical drivers of your organization’s growth and success. You’re more likely to attract these key players if you bring the mountain closer to Mohammed. Select a location that is alluring, affordable and with easy-in/easy-out access.
If you’re eyeing a possible second- or third-tier market, be realistic about drive times and/or flight connections, including number of flight options in and out, factoring in layover times. An attendee that spends all day on multiple flights and cooling their heels in too many airports isn’t going to arrive at the Registration Desk a happy camper.
Ask, “What’s in your wallet?”
Some organizations charge a flat conference fee that may or may not cover all hotel room & tax [exclusive of incidental charges], meals, shuttles, activities, amenities, etc. Others scale what that fee covers, and some charge attendees no conference fee at all; instead putting the squeeze on pay-to-play, exhibiting vendors for sponsorships and contributions of money, and in-kind products or services that cover all costs. Most loyal vendors are willing and/or happy to pay their fair share in order to protect the business relationship but you still have to be cautious about leaving them feeling like they’re in the midst of a “shakedown”.
Virtually all audiences at franchisee conferences, user-groups and associations want to see a new and fresh program each year so it’s vitally important to structure your fees in a manner that allows you to, if at all possible, make a few extra bucks so you can upgrade and improve from year-to-year. In a blue-sky world, a combination of attendee-paid conference fees and vendor contributions cover all basic and necessary program costs, pays for a few extra flourishes and, hopefully, Having said that, for most members of “the real world”, the goal each year is simply to break even, or to at least lessen the deficit burden they must absorb once all bills are paid.
Thus, it’s critically important for you to know your attendees and your vendors when determining the appropriate price points for each, and home in on “what the market will bear”.
Also, keep an eye on the broader economy, especially inflation, and be sure you’re increasing conference fees in a manner that allows you not only to keep pace with inflation but also to increase the amount of money tucked aside in the aforementioned war chest.
Do your homework and know exactly what is financially palatable for your targeted attendees and vendors, including soup-to-nuts, flat conference fee, airlift, hotel room rates, or other related program costs. Otherwise, you may end up with a lot of folks wishing they could attend but unwilling, or unable, to shell out the dollars it takes.
Work Hard and Play Hard
When researching a location and property, be sure to check out onsite and nearby attractions that would appeal to your group – beaches, golf, hiking opportunities, shopping, amusement parks, unique tours and excursions, casinos, entertainment venues, sporting events, etc. Many organizations invite families and guests, including children, so plan for this. Identify properties with the most alluring onsite and nearby attractions. A cool destination with a variety of things to do will help drive your attendance numbers.
Very important: When you find that type of location, be sure to build in ample agenda time for your group to break off and do what they want … or it will backfire on you.
Eat, Drink & Be Merry … in Moderation
Identify the proper balance of program-funded meals and meals on-your-own. The latter is not necessarily seen as a negative by your attendees. Remember, when people travel, they often have family members or friends in, or close to, the host town/city. A night-on-your-own allows attendees the opportunity to break away and piggyback a visit with loved ones. Also, some people are simply uncomfortable in large group meal settings and prefer a more personal dining experience so dinner-on-your-own is a welcome thing.
The “early bird” gets the worm … and the better room rate and contract concessions.
For several years, there has been fierce competition for hotel rooms and space, especially in the top destination markets. It has become increasingly important to lock in locations 2-4 years down the road. Like it or not, you have to do this or options quickly dry up and prices go up.
Brainstorm ways to entice people to sign up early for future programs in order to lock in today’s conference rates. Encourage people to book early to receive some form of rebate, a significant room upgrade, or to have their name entered into a drawing for a special amenity.
Waste Not, Want Not
This is especially – and sometimes painfully — true when it comes to hotel rooms and attrition deadlines. An unoccupied hotel room that you’re on the hook for costs just as much as an occupied room. Be mindful of attrition milestone dates, circle them on the calendar, stick Post-It notes on your bathroom mirror, put calendar reminders into your smart devices, and tattoo key dates on your forehead. 😉 Bottom-line: Don’t blow these deadlines or you’ll feel it at the bottom line.
Always remember: ‘Tis much easier to find rooms in a pinch than it is to offload unneeded rooms after the attrition date[s]. Always slay the attrition dragon.
For all the reasons listed above [Are you dizzy yet?] it’s important to identify the right program design, fees and destination which may or may not be your perfect destination. If your time is tight — and whose isn’t? – or you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, give dynami a shout and we’ll do the heavy lifting for you. Letting us find the right destination for your program costs you nothing and, when you choose to work with us, our deeply experienced and knowledgeable team will find the savings for you.