By David Gabri
Whether you are planning a large convention or a smaller meeting, one of the first decisions you will need to make is where to best host your program. A key component of that decision is addressing just how important accessibility is to that venue selection.
Your initial reaction may be “of course we want the location to be very accessible.” While that certainly may be the case, there are many other factors to consider when addressing this topic that may not make it that simple.
Where: First, you will want to look at the people who will be attending the meeting or program. Are they coming from the same city, same region, throughout the U.S. and the Americas, or from other international locales?
How: Will most attendees be traveling by car, train, or plane?
Logistics: If they are traveling from other parts of the United States or from other countries, how many times would you consider it reasonable that they need to change planes to reach the destination you are hosting your conference? Two is not unreasonable…is it?
In general, you typically want to have less travel time for shorter programs. It is important to take this into consideration for the majority of attendees, especially if the duration of the meeting or program is fewer than three days. After all, keep in mind their travel is part of their time away from the office and is part of their conference experience. So make sure your program is robust in content equivalent to the investment of time by attendees. This does not always mean shorter time of your program. On the contrary, in many cases it means more content for the time spent there.
Other factors to take into consideration regarding accessibility are the objectives and focus of the program.
City hotels can be convenient, and certainly easily accessible, and provide multiple options for attendees while at your meeting. Plus the group can experience the vast entertainment, cultural, dining, and business-related offerings of the city; and perhaps add other business to the trip not directly associated with the program.
Hotels or resorts in suburban locations or in resort destinations can provide an intimate/private atmosphere and individualized service. They also may provide more networking opportunities by keeping attendees close at hand for meals and related events, fewer distractions by other influences to leave the program for alternative purposes, and perhaps a more discrete and intimate meeting environment to share new plans, directives, objectives, and confidential information. In addition, it can provide a more inspiring atmosphere to your topics, different from the day-to-day business environment. Attendees are focused on the program and content, and then are motivated by the positive private environment in which they’re gathered.
There may also be cost-savings benefits to meeting at resorts as well, including transportation savings, and in utilizing a unique venue at the resort for a reception or dinner, as there may be no need to go off-site. At the same time, a city venue provides many off night opportunities if you like to have one evening free for attendees to assimilate with their chosen peers.
So while easy access is very appealing and appropriate for some meetings and programs, a venue that is not quite as accessible could actually be a wise choice to better achieve your program objectives, as attendees may be more focused on the program, with fewer distractions.
For longer programs accessibility is usually less of a consideration. While the top priority for any program is to select a venue that properly fits the criteria to match your objectives and needs, this is particularly the case for programs of four nights or longer. For these longer programs the venue needs to properly project the image of your organization, and be consistent with its market positioning, because when you think about it, meetings and programs are a reflection of what the organization is, or what it strives to be. This includes how the program is conducted, and where it is held.
When your association is a leader in its field, then a first-class program in every respect should be the goal—for both long and shorter meetings. In particular, high-quality venues and destinations which provide sustained first-class service and attention-to-details to meet the needs of the program and of your participants, resulting in a very positive and memorable program experience for the attendees in every respect.
Doing so serves as a positive reflection of your association’s outstanding brand image, and reinforces to your members how important they are to the organization, and to its success.
For shorter programs there are often benefits to meeting regionally. Having meetings, conventions or incentive programs closer to your association’s headquarters and/or to the potential attendees can often meet all of the expectations of a first-class program, while offering cost-savings benefits to meet budget objectives.
We are all well aware that high fuel prices affect virtually everything, including airfares. By selecting a site closer to home, you can often reduce overall expenses because more attendees can reach the site by car or train, or can drive together.
In addition to travel cost-savings, you realize another benefit of higher attendance, as well as the often-overlooked time-saving benefit for key leadership and staff away from the office.
There can even be green benefits, as programs conducted regionally tend to have less of a carbon footprint, since fewer individuals travel by air, and attendees may drive together or take mass transit.
All in all, thinking regionally may save time and money while effectively motivating attendees, enhancing camaraderie, encouraging the exchange of information, and providing an opportunity for them to meet their counterparts.
While meeting regionally isn’t always an option—or the best choice—for all programs, it can be a way to provide easier accessibility for your attendees. The good news is that there are many qualified and distinctive solutions that can work for you, as there are many exceptional offerings in each part of the country.
In summary, accessibility can be a key deciding factor when selecting your venue, but the top priority is always to choose the location that will best suit your program’s objectives and needs, and create a distinctive experience to advance your association’s brand’s image and appeal.
David Gabri is president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI), www.alhi.com .