Site Selection Tips
Site selection for your meeting or event is not just about finding the right venue in the right city, and booking that space before anyone else can get to it first. Unfortunately, it’s a tedious process that includes a lot of time management, design skills, knowledge about AV and WiFi requirements as well as contract negotiations. But fear not – we’ve got tips that you can add to your event planning toolbox so you don’t get overwhelmed when selecting a site for your event or meeting.
Site Selection Process
When organizing a meeting or event, site selection is a critical step in your planning process. However, you can only make a decision on your site if you know your event’s objectives, target audience and available budget. Once you’ve found a location, venue and meeting space, it’s essential to create a timeline so you don’t miss any crucial milestones (and don’t forget to plan for a site visit!).
First step is to pick a location. Although it might sound very straightforward, there are items you want to remember before picking a destination. We’ve created a checklist with examples to get you started.
|Purpose of Meeting
|Goals and objectives as set in the beginning||Educate delegates on new industry trends|
|History of Your
|Known asks or issues (from last year’s survey/pre-event survey)||Prefer small break-out sessions with hands-on labs|
|Preferred Date with Arrival/Departure Patterns||Month, week and days that work best for majority of your delegates||First week of October. Arrival Tuesday night.
Departure Friday afternoon
|Based on past events and/or interest||350|
|Accommodations Needed for Lodging, Meetings, Exhibits||Based on expected number of attendees||2 hotels for lodging, 1 ball room for keynote, 10 small break-out rooms|
|Important Things for Your Target Audience||Getting there & getting around, walkability, rotation between various regions, culture & mainstream attractions, things to do, etc.||Fly in from across country, prefer hotels to be in walking distance to conference, prefer outdoor activities and sightseeing|
Start Your Research
A good starting point when researching your site selection is Convention & Visitor Bureaus (CVBs), also known as DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations). These can be found at national, state or city level and often offer free advice for certain services since they’re usually funded by governments or local businesses. It’s their mission to attract business to their area or city so they should be able to support you with materials and information on venues and facilities. DMOs can even help coordinate a site inspection for you.
Helpful Tip: If you have visited a particular city before, chances are the DMO still has all historic information from your last visit, so don’t forget to ask about this.
Destination Management Companies (DMCs) are also an excellent reference point for you. DMCs are usually well-known for their expertise with local vendors and often have event management experience themselves. Note that there’s usually a fee involved. And don’t forget about leveraging your trusted meeting planner peers and professional associations to help you source the best venue for your meeting or event!
Venue or Site Selection Considerations
Once a location has been decided on, the next step is to find a venue. Aside from the actual property, keep in mind certain elements that you’ll want to include when conducting your search for site selection:
1. Services & Amenities
- Catering. You want to make sure the venue has a kitchen and catering available. This is often a more cost-effective solution than having a third-party caterer. If there’s no kitchen, find out if the venue has an exclusive partnership with a catering company or if you can bring your own.
- Equipment. Inquire if tables, chairs and linens are available for you to use. If they fit to your overall theme and decor, it usually saves you money. And don’t forget to ask about AV equipment and WiFi availability.
- Clean-Up Crew. Not all venues offer a clean-up crew. Find out early on so you can adjust your budget for additional expenses.
- Setup Time. Find out at what time you can start setting up and when you can start taking things down. Inquire about costs for these time slots.
- Storage Area and Backstage Rooms. Is there a storage area for your team as well as vendors? When and how can this area be accessed? Also ask about possible backstage rooms that can be leveraged for back-of-house operations.
2. Room Capacities and Food & Beverage Minimums
When selecting a venue, you already know how many people to expect for your meeting or event. So you’ll want to ask about room capacities. Room rental is typically based on capacity and has minimum food & beverage spend requirements if the venue has in-house catering. Inquire about this number and make sure to get this information in writing.
Depending on your target audience, and if they’ll be flying or driving in, you might want to investigate parking availability. It’ll be a major pain point for attendees if parking isn’t close by or available at all.
Is the venue accessible to everyone? Consider guests of all ages and those with special needs. Everyone needs to be able to access event rooms and amenities. Be sure to check the local, provincial/state and national laws where your meeting or event is being held to ensure your event is compliant. Remember that it’s your responsibility to make certain your event is adhering to the most current version of the law as your event attendees are under your care.
5. Insurance & Permits
Many venues won’t allow you to rent the space if you don’t have liability insurance in place. Be prepared to share this information with the venue early on. Also ask about special permits that are required from your end.
Site Selection Timeline
Timelines vary depending on the kind of event you‘re planning. Rule of thumb is that the smaller the event, the shorter the planning and site selection process will be. In general, the number of expected attendees, overnight guests and event space requirements will dictate how far in advance you need to start your site selection. It isn’t uncommon that for large trade shows, you need to decide for a city, conference centre and hotels anywhere between two to five years in advance. The actual selection of services you need would not begin until 12-18 months before your event though. It’s best to create a work back schedule from your meeting or event date and prioritize tasks accordingly.
A personal site inspection is a must. Without personally having been in the city and at the venue, it will be challenging to decide if the site serves your purpose. It needs to allow you to create an outstanding attendee experience. This might require an overnight stay at your destination. However, some hotels, if you are serious about booking large room blocks, might offer you a complimentary night.
Recommended Read: Be prepared for your next site visit with this site inspection checklist.
Once you determined your event’s objectives, target audience and budget you are ready to select a location (the city you want your meeting to be in), a venue (the actual building your event takes place) and the meeting space (the rooms in which you’ll be creating an unforgettable attendee experience!).
Advanced planning is of the essence to make sure you can host your event at your preferred site, and a site visit is a must. Remember to be patient. Site selection is a time-consuming process, but once it’s completed, you’ve accomplished a significant milestone in your event planning process.
Site selection can make up a significant portion of your event budget. Learn best practices on how to prepare an event budget so you don’t have any unplanned surprises at the end of your event.
Event Budget Basics: Everything You Need to Know