Venue sourcing in late 2020 and early 2021 for meeting and event planners will be competitive and filled with unique challenges, unlike anything they’ve faced before. That’s why now is the time to shore up your strategy and plan for in-person events when they return, in whatever form that may be. In this post, we’ll discuss the ways you can accelerate your venue sourcing strategy, what you should be thinking about when you send eRFPs, and tips to finding the best venues for your events.
As we discussed in a previous post, when in-person events open up around the country and return in full force, there will be a race for space. Many planners are already securing space for late 2020 and early 2021. It’s critical to the success of your events that you hone your venue sourcing craft while understanding the new normal, from safety precautions at venues to distancing guidelines.
Find the Best Venues with a New Approach to Your eRFPs
Typical venue souring has been reset, and planners and venues have to think differently. Safety guidelines will vary state-by-state, and it will take the combined efforts of planners and venues to bridge the gap and work together in a true partnership. The eRFP process will become even more critical as the industry rises and restarts and in-person events resume. Let’s walk through the sourcing process using our new lens, with tips you can use along the way to secure the venues that are the best for your meetings, conferences, and events.
Building your modified assessment criteria sheet
Pre-COVID-19, location, location, location was the mantra for event success. Now, there’s more to consider. Your criteria must include not only your typical “must-haves” (Wi-Fi and adequate room space), and your “nice-to-haves,” but also health and safety protocols, social distancing arrangements, and safe food and beverage. These are all topics that will interest your staff and prospective attendees. This will also be a time to weigh the importance of those “nice-to-haves” as you consider multiple venues.
Venue sourcing by state
As states re-open in phases, one thing is sure. There will be subtle to significant differences in regulations. This can even vary by locality, so staying in constant communication with your prospective venues will help you determine the best fit in the long run. Additionally, we know that conditions may change quickly, so stay connected with your contacts, as they will likely be the most informed about the changes and policies being implemented in their city.
Working with your partner venues by asking the right questions
The safety and security of your attendees and staff are paramount. The venues you work with know this, as they have the same concerns about their own staff. But to draw business and build trust, it will become the new norm for venues to be compliant with safety precautions in addition to typical amenities offered. Make sure when building your eRFP you include pertinent questions that will make you feel secure enough to work with a particular venue, along with those that help you create an engaging and memorable attendee experience.
What is the quality of the hotel or destination?
You can find these facts when sourcing, such as star rating, and also see when the hotel was built or last renovated. Spend time looking at the hotel’s photos or videos to get a feel for the facility.
New concerns: Regardless of the size or space, inquire about venues’ sanitation practices in high-trafficked areas, meeting rooms, bathrooms, etc. The venues you work with should have a policy in place that addresses these key issues and more.
What type of amenities do they offer, and what is the quality of those amenities?
Is the facility within walking distance of restaurants, attractions, and nightlife? Local attractions are typically a big draw for driving attendance to events (Las Vegas, Orlando, San Diego). If you’re interested in having off-site activities, make sure to nail this down.
New concerns: What local attractions are open? Of the ones that are, what are their safety guidelines? Is their capacity limited? Are extra precautions in place at restaurants vs. theme parks, zoos, and music venues?
What is the layout of the meeting space, and what is the maximum capacity?
Is it on the same floor or close to guest rooms? Is it configured with state-of-the-art AV, lighting, and Wi-Fi? Is there enough space for all of your activities planned? How is the space laid out? Are there any obstacles in the room?
New concerns: Meeting space will have to be recalibrated based on previous attendee-to-space ratios—as more space may be needed to accommodate attendees due to social distancing. Maximum capacity formulas have been altered, even with smaller events.
*One way to collaborate with your venues is by using diagramming tools to capture virtual layouts. Spend time analyzing the meeting space virtually, because this is where a high percentage of your attendee’s time will be spent.
What are the travel accommodations available?
Traveling to and from events has always been filled with stress. It’s essential to ease your attendees’ worries about getting to and from your meeting, trade show, or conference by providing viable options to choose from when it comes to travel. Find out the safest and most convenient ways for your attendees to travel to your event.
New concerns: Airline regulations, subways, taxis, Uber—they’ve all undergone a change in one form or another in the past several months. Find out what means of transportation are available and what safety regulations are in place to make your attendees comfortable.
The competition for space
Because the recovery period has shifted, making predictions on when the meetings and events industry will return in full force has been hard to calibrate. Still, the expectation is that the floodgates will open, and when they do, competition for venue space will be intense. After all, the value of face-to-face interactions has been greatly magnified in the past several months.
So, when looking at a venue, it’s important to understand if you are the only one being offered those dates and spaces. If you are not, inquire about how many other groups you are going against. Typically, the first group to sign on the dotted line secures the space. However, the hotel marketing staff may not call you immediately to let you know their RFP is completely off the table unless you go with your second or third date options. Keep the lines of communication open. If anything about our current situation tells us, things can change quickly.
Engage with the staff and determine how responsive they are to your requests. Are they getting back to you within a reasonable time period, or does it take 2-3 calls before you get a response? Pay attention to responsiveness, and if they are interested in building a long-term relationship with you.
Accelerate Your Sourcing Strategy
The template hasn’t been set, and there’s much about the future of in-person events that we don’t know right now. But social distancing is sure to have some sort of impact on meetings and events—from registration and check-in to room set-up to F&B. Having the right tools at your disposal will help make the process of sourcing venues in the next several months and beyond less time-consuming and allow you to adapt and evolve at a rapid pace.