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Appendix 7
Site Selection & Inspection
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Once you know what kind of function you're holding (which is not always so simple a question to answer), you can decide what kind of venue will be appropriate.

But first ask: Is there a corporate preference? Hotel? Close to the office? Out of town? Will parking be required?

Again, if possible, look at the history of what your company or group has done in years past and use it to guide your options. Perhaps there were certain locations that attracted more attendees than others. Or, if this is a debut event, it's always helpful to survey potential attendees and see where they'd like the event to be, whether it be a small inn, a major hotel with all the amenities, a convention center or some other unique site. (But remember our earlier caution: Surveying attendees can often be more trouble than it's worth. Once again, know in advance that you can't please everyone.)

Then, consider the pros and cons of that destination. Factor in such issues as entertainment options and tourist attractions for attendees beyond the activities in the hotel or convention center and the image of the facility in terms of what you're trying to convey to investors, top management and, perhaps, the press. Continuing to keep a clear eye on the meeting's ultimate goal is also crucial, says Michelle Issing, general partner at Designing Events, a meeting management company in Baltimore. "If you're hosting an event to impress clients, that's different than if you're an association hosting an event for your members," she says.

In addition, be sure the venue can set up a group registration area for your attendees and that they'll be able to handle shipments before you arrive. You'll want to deliver all your registration materials, booklets, gifts and other materials before the event, and you'll want to find out exactly who will be receiving these items-get each person's name, title and direct phone extension. Make sure the location has space (and enough outlets) for AV equipment in the main room as well as in the smaller rooms for "breakout" sessions.

At this point, it's key to honestly think about who is coming to the event. It matters if the group is comfortable traveling to more out of the way destinations or whether they'd prefer to stay within a certain neighborhood. Your event's locale also depends on the number of people you're expecting and the specifications required by the company. For example, Issing recalls having a tough time finding a venue for one client since the firm wanted to have a laser show to cap off their annual meeting. "With this sort of production, we needed to find a ballroom with a 25-foot ceiling," she says.

Be sure to look for the basics during an on-site visit. Visit the venue when it's at full-occupancy and there are plenty of meetings taking place, as well as when it's empty. Make sure the venue can accommodate your meeting. This is the time to be truly detail-oriented.

No matter what venue you pick, expect to put down a deposit on the space and be sure to ask exactly what's included in the usage fee (for example, meeting space, complimentary breakfasts, coffee breaks and additional meeting space should you need it).

Don't forget to think outside the hotel box. Consider a museum, a downtown glassed-in atrium, a botanical garden, maybe a private club, or even a national landmark.

A Site Selection Tip Sheet
Some of this is going to seem obvious, but then taking care of the obvious should be ingrained into the very fiber of an event and meeting planner.
  • Before You Go
    • Ask the facility for references from planners who have held meetings there recently.
    • Does the facility have certain dates available that could provide you with lower room rates? Can the group have meals and functions separately? Are there special menus to choose from?
    • Send your preliminary agenda and AV list along before you go, as well as your banquet requests. Include in this document any or all special accommodation or setup needs. For example, you might need a particularly large stage. This gives the facility time to prepare for your meeting.
    • Discuss the number of attendees, as well as the number of sleeping rooms you'll require.
    • Is the hotel ADA (wheelchair) accessible?

  • When You Are There
    • Get the name, address, telephone and fax numbers, and email addresses of the facility, and double-check the spelling for your invitations.
    • Check out meeting rooms personally, when they are in use as well as when they are empty.
    • Check out the grounds, the ease of access, the reception area. In hotels, check out the front-desk people and the ease of check-in and check-out.
    • Are the ashtrays clean in the smoking rooms?
    • Does the food look appealing?
    • Do the chairs look (and, more importantly, feel) comfortable?
    • Is there a convenient coat check, and is there sufficient staff to head off long lines?
    • What is the facility's rules for extra signage? Will you get adequate display? (Some museums are sticky about this.)
    • Are the meeting rooms private and sound-proof? Are they close to the kitchens? If there is a house phone in the room, can the sound be turned off?
    • Does the staff know to keep out of the room during sessions? Are the hallways relatively quiet?
    • If this is a hotel, is there a weekend rate for guests staying on after the meeting is over?
    • Are there adequate lighting and ventilation controls?
    • Are there enough electric outlets?
    • Are there sufficient phone jacks for modems?
    • Are there enough elevators for attendees rushing to events?
    • Are there lots of phones available for use during breaks?
    • Would it be difficult to see/hear a speaker from the back of a meeting room?
    • How wide is the room? Is there room for a podium, head table, screen and whatever else you'll need?
    • Is there an adequate number of restrooms?
    • Is the exhibit space very far from the meeting rooms?
    • Is there a business center on site or close by for copies and emails?
    • Is the venue itself in a safe part of the city?
    • Is there adequate parking?
    • Is the facility "safe"-that is, are there adequate exits that are permanently unlocked, are there proper handrails in stairwells, is there adequate lighting around exits, have the elevators been recently inspected, and so on. At least for a few minutes, think "worst case": What if there was a fire? An earthquake?
    • Are there enough security guards on call?

  • Some Other Questions You Should Ask
    • What is the latest date until which the facility will hold the rooms? (Don't be pressured to sign on the spot.)
    • Will the facility receive and store registration boxes and delegate kits ahead of time, and if so, at what charge?
    • Is there state-of-the-art AV equipment on hand? And the staff to do the inevitable troubleshooting?
    • How soon can the rooms be set up?
    • Is the facility unionized? Are there any contracts coming up for renewal that might precipitate a strike?
    • Can the facility create a message center for your attendees?
    • Are there any renovation plans in the works? (If so, the noise can be a factor; there's nothing worse for speakers than to be drowned out by jackhammers).
    • Does the facility provide transportation to and from the airport or will you need to hire a destination company for transfers?
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