Regardless of whether you’re part of a credit union, CUSO, or other vendor, when planning events it’s important to be familiar with the venue, location, and onsite event staff. Live events always have elements that are unpredictable, but in order to be as prepared as possible to mitigate any potential for surprises, conducting a site visit prior to booking the venue is a must! A site visit is recommended to be done prior to signing any contracts and depending on the venue, this may need to be done as far as one year in advance of the event.
Once you have your venue of choice selected you will start the process by submitting a request for proposal (RFP), which will allow you to give the venue information of your event’s details and preferred dates. This will also be the opportunity to request a hotel room block if your event requires this accommodation. At this point in the process, you will be working with the sales representative from the venue to negotiate meeting room space, accommodations, rental fees, and food and beverage minimums.
It is important to note that many properties will make you contract very specific guest rooms, and if those are not noted in the contract when it comes to booking, you will not be offered select rooms at the negotiated room rate. This is where conducting a site visit is very valuable! Make sure when visiting the property, you are given a tour of all room types and suites. (Some properties consider a fold-out couch as a full-size bed and some even have murphy beds.)
Know the needs of your guests and attendees ahead of time so when you are contracting you can negotiate between how many king rooms, queen rooms, and even suites you may need. When booking larger events feel free to ask the property about comping suites for any executives or special VIP guests or even room upgrades for the discounted room rate. Another question to ask during negotiations is having the discounted rate extended for the dates prior to the event and after the event to allow attendees to take advantage of their stay, especially if at a travel destination. This can help attract attendees to your event as well.
The event space and city
When on-site make sure to get a tour of the meeting room space and be aware of what is surrounding the location of the meeting room. Is it loud and near a busy entry point? Are there restrooms nearby? Where is the catering service area located? Ask questions regarding what is allowed as far as audio/visual and what services does the venue offer in this arena? There are often fees for the use of outside vendors, and sometimes the venue will not allow services to be outsourced to a third-party vendor.
Of course, the obvious thing to do on a site visit is to get your bearings of the property and the surrounding area. Ask those at the property for a list of things to do and see along with places to eat and shop. Explore as much as you can! Check into the amenities offered on-site (spa, gym, restaurants, concierge services, etc.). My favorite thing to do at a site visit is to find local eats and belly up to the bar. Make a friend with the bartender and bend their ear on the best places to eat, things to see, things not to do, and gain knowledge from a local in the area!
Know who you’ll be working with
Finally, it’s important to meet the staff. Site visits are usually conducted by the sales team; however, you will not be working with the sales team once the contract is executed. Make sure to be introduced to the event coordination team and ask if the property can have you meet with the coordinator that would be assigned to your event. If the property has a special rooms coordinator that will be handling all your guest rooms make sure to meet with them as well.
Do your research and plan ahead
Site visits are usually short trips depending on the work that needs to be accomplished while visiting. Make the most of your time by doing research prior to the trip. Search travel blogs and other travel sites for insider information. Have an itinerary established by the sales team prior to leaving, and then you will be prepared to not miss anything on the checklist. Ensure the success of the event by being prepared and asking questions that you have defined ahead of time. Take photos and videos to share back at the office with the other decision-makers. Remember to keep the perspective of not only the event planner but also the perspective of the attendee.