Site visits can have an overwhelming sense about them; there are so many questions to ask, so many decisions that are best made in person, and a plethora of new ideas that can only be inspired by seeing a space live – all on a time crunch. It is easy to get bogged down in minor decisions and superfluous brainstorming sessions, so it is imperative to focus on the overall goal and corresponding objectives of your visit.
After many site visits, we have compiled a list of tips that we use to maximize our time, get the most out of meetings, and make the planning process when you return to office that much smoother.
Pre-planning Your Planning Sessions:
1. List your priority discussion topics, and schedule meetings with appropriate players.
It is important to identify what vendors you need some face-to-face time with during your site visit, and out of that group, to know which require separate meetings. For example, if you have a unique AV need for a particular event, bring specifications from past years and set aside time with the onsite or preferred AV provider in the space so that they can walk through needs with you, and even show you sample configurations. Without the prep of knowing AV is your priority, your main onsite contact might not otherwise schedule a separate sit down with them! Consider this with each main piece of your program – including decorator and vendors who may not be in house.
2. Create a skeleton grid of contracted space that you can make informed decisions onsite about room assignments.
Too often you can visit a space blind, excited to see a variety of ballrooms you saw on the website, only to come to find that what you contracted 3 years back does not include everything you had hoped! Be sure you review your original contract, and make a “skeleton” or draft of your usual schedule grid including all of your current contracted space. That way as you scope the venue, you can clearly assess what inventory you have and how you can most efficiently farm it out for different purposes.
At the Primary Venues:
3. Scope out a current onsite event.
Ask your Event Manager(s) in advance if any events will be in town during your trip. If they are, reviewing what others do in the space is often the most helpful tidbit you can gain from a site visit! Check out how they handle registration, see what signage they place and where it might be lacking, and get an idea of what the space feels like when a group fills it up.
4. Perform phone service and WiFi checks.
We all expect a signal everywhere we go. Some venues, particularly lower / basement level spaces can have weak or missing signals. Check your phone signal and be sure to connect to the meeting WiFi upon arrival and to reference it throughout your walk through. These are particularly helpful if there is an event onsite so that you can test these during peak usage times.
Exposing yourself to the experience that your average conference attendee will have is a part of a meeting planner’s job, and that applies not only to their experience during conference events, but when they retire to their rooms for the evening.
5. Review all types of sleeping rooms at your main conference hotel.
You might think that you only need to see your higher level spaces – Jr. Suites, Suites, and the Presidential Suite – but these spaces only reflect the experience of the smallest percentage of your attendees. Exposing yourself to the experience that your average conference attendee will have is a part of a meeting planner’s job, and that applies not only to their experience during conference events, but when they retire to their rooms for the evening.
6. Test front desk customer service at the hotel.
Call down with a need for toothpaste, stop by to get a replacement room key, etc., to see how the average guest is treated. Request walking directions to a nearby park, or a list of restaurant recommendations beyond what might be connected to the property. Observing the check-in process of others gives great insight and can help your team plan for a smooth attendee experience from check-in to check-out.
7. Make a short list of any additional space that might be needed.
During your site visit, it might come to light that certain spaces that you’ve pre-assigned in your skeleton grid do not work for the event you had envisioned them for. In the worst of those scenarios, there is no other contracted space for you that does fit the bill. In those instances, it is best to be open with your onsite coordinator about what other space at their venue you might need – this way they can check if other groups are in house, reserve the space for you if possible, and assess any minimum increases that might be needed to add this space to your contract. Also, if your venue does not have any other space that could meet your needs, this gives you ample time to review off-site options.
Beyond the Property:
8. Schedule a meeting with the local Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For some groups who handle items internally, or who have visited this city or even venue before, this may seem like the step to skip. However, we find that Convention and Visitors Bureaus end up being our go-to for the oddball questions that ultimately add a layer of finesse and detail to the attendee experience. Your CVB contact will help you with transportation questions, concerns about happenings in the city, recommendations for any off-site venue needs, lists of restaurants and experiences for attendees, and contacts for any special vendors you might need, like those for special sponsorship experiences. Whenever possible, set up an onsite meeting with the CVB – ideally in a fun area of the city, experiencing a restaurant, so you are getting a feel for their town! You won’t regret it.
9. Practice walking or public transportation in your conference city.
Piggybacking off of #8 on the list, this is an item that your CVB contact can help you with. They know the in’s and out’s of free and paid public transportation in the city, and can direct you to what is most user friendly and accessible based on your venue location. Take a chance to utilize that, and to walk within a few block perimeters of your venue and/or hotel(s) to understand what amenities surround your venue. This is just another important example of putting yourself in your attendees’ shoes.
Whenever possible, set up an onsite meeting with the CVB – ideally in a fun area of the city, experiencing a restaurant, so you are getting a feel for their town! You won’t regret it.
Across the Board:
10. Ask open ended questions.
Whether it is when meeting with your onsite contact, the internet provider, the preferred decorator contact, or the CVB, we find that the most insight and unique details arise when you keep your questions open ended. Give those who know the most about the venue, the service or the city, the chance to expand upon their usual cookie cutter responses. Instead of asking “Can we set this room in a u-shape,” ask, “What unique room sets have you seen in this space.” You will be impressed to see creative ideas and more conversation flow just using this tactic.
We hope that some of our tips can help you to make the most out of your next site visit! Any important tips that we missed? Tweet us at @Network_Media or post on our Facebook wall!