Selecting the right venue can make or break a meeting or convention in the same way a poor featured speaker or bad production can. Choosing a suitable venue is one of the most important parts of the event planning process. A successful host and convention planner must select a venue that offers not only the space to accommodate attendees, but also amenities needed to support the event (possibly including staff, A/V equipment, sufficient electrical outlets and Wi-Fi, etc.), and of course, proximity to guest necessities like lodgings, food, and transportation.
Says Tessa Cameron, VP Strategic Sourcing at AMI, “There’s a lot more to choosing a venue than finding a place that looks nice and has ample square footage. It’s important to perform a site inspection before settling on a venue to ensure that it checks off all the boxes to meet your needs and support your event.” With an experienced partner in global meeting services like American Meetings, Inc. (AMI) to help with venue selection and focus on planning, logistics, and negotiation, you should be able to find the perfect venue every time. However, it helps if the host or event organizer knows how to perform a thorough site inspection.
1. In-Person Site Inspection by You and/or Your Convention Planner
Physical site inspections are the ideal way to determine whether or not a venue will suit your needs. There’s nothing quite as informative as seeing a place with your own eyes, assessing the lighting and sound, measuring the comfort and convenience, and asking pertinent questions of on-site staff as you go.
Seeing bright sun streaming into a conference room in the morning could prompt you to plan for blinds during morning meetings. Knowing how long it takes to get from an exhibit hall to meeting rooms, or from one end of the venue to the other could help you to set your event schedule. Realizing an area where you want to place a speaker has no outlets for microphones could prompt you to ask about logistical fixes or simply look for a more suitable staging area.
Yes, you can ask for photos of the site and even ask staff to provide walkthrough times, for example, but would you even think of some of these things if you weren’t in the venue in person? Maybe not.
2. Virtual Site Inspection
In some cases, venues will wine and dine you to get your business, but a host or event organizer may still have to pay for travel and other expenses in order to check out venues. It also takes time. This can be a tedious chore, especially if you have several potential event sites on your list. In this case, you might have to make do with some kind of virtual inspection of a property, paired with a phone conference with sales managers or on-site event staff.
Some venues may offer video walkthroughs of different areas of the venue to give prospective clients a view of their spaces. When you can’t inspect in person, this is ideal. However, you might not have the option. If all else fails, you can simply look at the venue’s website, which hopefully features a gallery of professional snapshots or videos of the locale, including other events held there.
3. Early Planning
Whether you have two sites to look at or twenty, you need to leave yourself plenty of time to comparison shop, pick the right one, and get all your ducks in a row to outfit it properly for your event. Not every convention planner has time for all this hoopla, but another benefit of booking early is the increased odds of getting your preferred venue for your chosen event dates.
4. Meet with In-House Event Organizer
You no doubt have burning questions about the lighting and temperature in your event space, as well as the on-site equipment, staff, and other amenities you’ll have access to before and during your event. You likely have questions about additional costs, how soon you can get in for setup, and whether or not the venue has deals in place with local hotels or caterers, for example. The best way to have all your questions answered so you can make an informed decision is by meeting with a sales representative or in-house event organizer during your site inspection.
5. View All Pertinent Areas
Even if you’re still in the early planning stages of your event, you probably have an inkling of the activities you’ll be hosting and the number of attendees you’re shooting for. This gives you a basis from which to select venues that have appropriate gathering areas and view them to make sure the site will accommodate your plans. Don’t forget to ask about security for any and all areas you view, indoors or out.
6. Inspect In-House Amenities
Just because a venue offers up a lavish ballroom or an exhibit hall the size of a football stadium doesn’t necessarily mean it will meet all of your needs. It’s important to go over the finer details of your planned event to make sure you’ll have adequate lighting, electrical outlets, heat or AC, Wi-Fi, and so on during your event. You need to know if furnishing, catering, security, and event staff are provided or if you’ll have to find third-party providers. Amenities could tip the scales between a venue that’s so-so and one that’s just right.
7. Ascertain and Assess Additional Services
Some events will have an all-inclusive feel, such as meetings at hotels that feature on-site restaurants and shuttles, for example. In other cases, the host and convention planner will have to find a venue that has suitable services nearby. Logistical concerns surrounding booking lodgings, providing meals, and offering transport in the local environs must be weighed as part of the potential hassle and expense associated with each venue.
8. Ask for a Sample Contract Ahead of Time
Going into your site inspection, you should have a general idea of what the venue offers, how much it costs, and what legal obligations you shoulder when you sign on the dotted line. Having the venue’s general contract ahead of time helps you prep questions and negotiate with the site’s sales representative.
Don’t forget, a partner like AMI can help to select the perfect event venue, negotiate the contract and manage other on-site vendors, alleviating some of the burden on a harried host or convention planner.