SITE SEARCH & SELECTION is a multi-faceted area and a favorite area of the meeting planning process for me. It encompasses three areas of consideration and best done in order; although, it may take a fair amount of coaxing on your part to make this happen.
1) Search (Research)
2) Site Inspection
And, then there’s the ever present, Budget (but I already covered that in Core Competency #2: Budget Development and Revenue Management).
There are so many venue options and destinations to choose from, but research efforts should be driven first by program goals and objectives, intended audience, anticipated numbers, and general area of the county under consideration.
Getting a bead on this can be hard to do if the Design or Planning Team isn’t forthcoming with the information or for proprietary reasons isn’t able to disclose too much, but try, try, try). Sometimes, it boils down to trust; sometimes it may take a little more initiative on the meeting professional’s part. (There’s an Overall Meeting Action Plan template in my book to help you identify and document program specs.)
Other considerations during the research phase include preferred setting or atmosphere; maximum distance guests are willing to travel to and from the airport; preferred venue type (resort, city, airport or suburban or conference center); level/quality of accommodations and service; and perhaps above all, safety and security.
Site inspections ideally should be done BEFORE going to contract. You want to make sure you know what you’re getting before committing. And you just might want to keep a second option in your back pocket in the event you need more rooms and/or for some reason something unanticipated happens with your preferred choice (such as change in management, another client commits before you do).
I also liked doing a second site during the final detail phase of the planning process to reinforce what I remembered from the first visit and to make sure the conference services person and I are in synch.
While it’s important to flush out program goals and objectives early on (and certainly before going to contract), first and foremost you need to make sure there’s a proper fit between required meeting and banquet space needs and the actual space a venue has to offer. You can’t grow space that isn’t there or just plainly not available should your needs change as planning moves forward). The number and required setup of meeting and breakouts rooms, and food and beverage function space all matter. And don’t forget registration, office and storage space. (The Request for Proposal (RFP) template in my book will help you lay out guest room and function space requirements.)
The Site, Search and Selection process is a very time-consuming element of the meeting planning process, one that may require the help of a sourcing company (a company whose primary function is the sourcing of hotels and resorts) to obtain the best rates and contract terms for their clients (YOU). This does not take anything away from the planner; you’re still in the driver’s seat but it does free you up to work on other tasks when you’re hit with a last-minute request for a new project (and we all know this happens, sometimes more often than we’d like).
To delve deeper into the Site Search & Selection process, check out my book, "The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meetings."