The perennial challenge facing many corporate event planners is how to choose a perfect destination for a group’s event that meets a multitude of conditions—is appealing to the majority of participant, is easy to get to, fits the established guidelines with respect to budget, etc., and makes life easy for the planner in having to deal with a variety of logistics issues. What follows is a simple checklist of variables that an event planner can use to make a successful selection—though, such decisions are always bound to be more appealing to some than others. The goal, however, is to make sure the decision meets some important criteria.
The most important criterion to consider when selecting a destination is the purpose of the event. Is this a meeting, a conference, an incentive trip, a convention, etc.? Naturally, depending on the purpose of the event, different destinations qualify. A convention requires large-scale infrastructure, whereas an incentive program calls for extensive amenities and destination appeal. Likewise, participants are more likely to tolerate a long-haul flight to get to a resort destination unlike convention attendees. Finally, costs are viewed differently when attending a convention vs. a corporate retreat (where the attendee may be expected to bear some of the cost compared to an incentive trip that most often is fully paid for by the company).
Not all destinations are created equal: The character of the destination must match the nature of the event. A branding event planned for New York may not fit very well in Omaha. Tahiti may be perfect for that VIP incentive program, but not for a tactical meeting.
A good event planner must at all times have a clear idea about the makeup of the [majority of the] group. The destination should always be chosen considering the group. These questions should help determining how appealing a destination can be for a particular group:
- Are the participants roughly in the same age group or a mix of age groups?
- Are the participants active or laid back?
- Is the group looking for an extraordinary experience?
- Are partners also attending or is the group limited to employees?
- What is important to the group?
- Does the group prefer an urban or a resort destination?
- If applicable, where did this same group travel to last?
The answers to these and other related questions should go a long way to help with the choice of a destination that is likely to have the most appeal to the majority of the attendees.
These days, there are hardly any corporations that give an event planner ‘carte blanche’ when it comes to planning an event—even high-end incentive programs have budgetary constraints. Once again, an astute planner will have to keep in mind some important financial criteria when choosing a destination:
- Does your budget meet the destination’s cost index?
- Is the destination appeal worth the cost index (in the eyes of decision makers, attendees, etc.)?
- Is this trip paid for entirely by the corporation or are participants responsible for a portion of the cost (which affects their view of the destination’s affordability)?
- How sensitive are participants to cost variables at a particular destination (i.e., ‘price elasticity’)?
- How expensive is it to get a group to the particular destination (airfare, etc.)?
- Are all participants coming from one location or multiple cities (which may add to the air fare and ground transportation costs)?
- Does the destination infrastructure meet the corporation’s budgetary guidelines (with respect to hotel, transportation and other ground costs)?
- How does the selected property’s costs compare to alternatives (room, F&B, A/V, meeting rooms, speaker fees, resort fees, etc.)?
- Are there sufficient amenities at reasonable cost to meet the group’s expectations?
- Finally, what is the ROI of your event at that particular destination [compared to alternative destinations]?
The ultimate goal is to strike a balance between the destination appeal and what it costs to have a program there.
4. Access & Egress
As appealing as some destinations may be, getting there might pose challenges for a group. Far-flung resorts always sound very appealing until you try to get a large group there from multiple points of origin. The destination’s arrival/departure infrastructure are critical to smooth execution of your program. Here are some important questions to ask in selecting a secondary or tertiary destination in terms of geographic location:
- What are airport/seaport facilities like?
- How many flights does it take to get to the destination (for the majority of your participants)?
- What is the frequency of flights to/from the destination (should there be a cancelation or delay along the way, what happens to the group’s planned programs)?
- How good is the destination’s ground transportation system?
- How available are ground transportation means (coaches, sedans, etc.)?
- Does your group need any ADA-equipped transportation?
- How close is everything at this destination (hotel, entertainment, dining options, etc.)?
- Are there any major constructions underway and/or bottlenecks at the destination’s airport/seaport, hotel, roads, etc. that may affect the group’s arrival/departure or movements?
- Weather effect: Is the destination potentially adversely affected by weather patterns (for example, tornados or hurricanes)?
- What contingency plans have you put in place in case of unforeseen weather-related emergencies?
There is a big difference between traveling to a destination privately and taking a group there. Group dynamics may make a perfectly-attractive sounding destination unappealing once some of these criteria are factored in. It is important to always keep in mind that even the most relaxed incentive program is not a vacation—neither for you nor for the participants.
A carefully-selected destination should be more than just a nice hotel. Notwithstanding the fact that in any group there are some participants that rarely wander off the property, more adventurous attendees may wish to explore the destination beyond the property—even at an all-inclusive hotel or resort. Consequently, as a planner, you have to consider two separate set of issues: The property and how suited it is for your particular group’s needs and what else is available at the destination:
- Does the hotel have enough capacity to meet your group’s needs (bell staff, concierge, housekeeping, etc.)?
- What is the ratio of your total room occupancy to the total rooms at the hotel (you don’t want to be lost in a hotel with thousands of rooms with your VIP group of 20 members of the board of directors)?
- What amenities are available at the property (golf course, tennis, pools, beach access, etc.)?
- What about dining options onsite (restaurants, bars, etc.)?
- How about meeting rooms? Does your group require specific meeting space? Is this an incentive group with no meeting requirements or does the group assemble for periodic get-together on property during the course of the event?
- How family-friendly is the destination (in case participants are allowed/invited to bring along partners or family members)?
- What is available offsite (for dine-arounds, tours, bars, night clubs, etc.)?
- How easy is it for some participants to go off-property (availability of taxis, ground transportation, etc.)?
- What makes the destination interesting or unique for your particular group?
- Is there a language issue (do you need interpreters for your offsite activities)?
In the end, your goal should be taking into account all the variables and finding a destination that meets most—if not all—your critical criteria.
With heightened security risks around the world, selecting a ‘safe’ destination becomes an ever-more challenging task for event planners. While you do not want to come across as alarmist, you must remain vigilant when it comes to security risks at a particular destination—which can be a rapidly-changing picture. The risk factors are not always in terms of terrorism or national security dangers. Sometimes, they relate to personal safety of the group (for example, the risk of mugging, etc.). Here are some important questions:
- What are the risk factors at the selected destination?
- How safe is your group wandering off-property—especially at night?
- If abroad, have you made a note of/contacted your country’s embassy/nearest consulate location in case of an emergency?
- Does your company have an ‘Emergency Plan’ and are you comfortably familiar with it?
- Specifically, do you have an evacuation plan in case of a natural disaster?
It is important to keep in mind that the group’s safety rests with you while on a program—especially if at a far-away destination. The planner’s role in such cases is elevated far above managing event logistics. You become the go-to person onsite for a multitude of questions/issues. Be prepared.
Some corporations have stated goals to contribute to the well-being of local communities in which they hold an event. This can range from insisting on green and healthy meetings to making a contribution to a local cause. The company policy may dictate selecting properties that are LEED certified. If the program calls for a social activity, the planner has to get acquainted with worthy causes in the local community that meet the corporate criteria for such CSR activities. Needless to say, to avoid any possible conflicts, a great deal of due diligence may be required to ensure that the cause is indeed worthy and meets all corporate guidelines.
8. The Planner’s Views
As event planners, we have a great deal of influence on the selection process of an event destination. In this process, some planners have more latitude than others. Some work directly with senior management (for example, the CEO) in choosing a destination for an important event while others have to satisfy a large group of stakeholders (for example, a committee, HR or marketing departments). As with many other aspects of our jobs as event planners, freedom in selecting a destination could be a double-edged sword [“live by sword, die by sword”]. And unfortunately, it is only at the conclusion of the event that the verdict is handed out. In the case of a perfectly-run event, the event planner stands to shine. However, should there be any incident along the way—event if it is totally out of the control of the planner (for example, in the case of a natural disaster)—he/she may be the target of some criticism for selecting the destination in question. The above guidelines are intended to help you minimize your exposure to criticism—direct or indirect. While an exotic destination always sounds very appealing, a word of caution: Make every effort to be prudent—and thorough—in your selection process.
Finally, planners work in an interconnected world: If in doubt, reach out to your colleagues in the industry for a second opinion on a particular destination; or, direct the above questions to your qualified event planning company.
Let the Maxxus Group help you select that perfect destination that satisfies all of the above criteria.