Ensuring Your Convention Site is Accessible
A first-class program should be the goal for both long and shorter meetings.
Whether you are planning a large convention or a smaller meeting for your franchise, one of the first decisions you will need to make is where to best host your program. A key component of that decision is addressing just how important “accessibility” is to that venue selection.
The initial reaction may be “of course we want the location to be very accessible.” While that certainly may be the case, there are many other factors to consider when addressing this topic that may not make it that simple.
Where. First, you will want to study your audience, i.e. the people who will be attending the meeting or program. Are they coming from the same city, same region, throughout the United States and the Americas or from other international locales?
How. Will most attendees be traveling by car, train or plane?
Logistics. If they are traveling from other parts of the United States, or particularly from other countries, how many times would you consider it reasonable that they need to change planes to reach the destination you are hosting your conference?
Two is not unreasonable, is it?
In general, you typically want to have less travel time for shorter programs. It is important to take this into consideration for the majority of attendees, especially if the duration of the meeting or program is fewer than three days. After all, keep in mind their travel is part of their time away from the office, and is part of their conference experience. So make sure your program is robust in content equivalent to the investment of time by attendees. This does not always mean you must shorten your program. On the contrary, in many cases it means more content for the time spent there.
Other factors to take into consideration regarding accessibility are the objectives and focus of the program.
City hotels can be convenient and certainly easily accessible, and provide multiple business options for attendees while at your meeting. Plus the group can experience the vast entertainment, cultural, dining and business-related offerings of the city; and perhaps add other business to the trip not directly associated with the program.
Hotels or resorts in suburban locations or in resort destinations can provide an intimate/private atmosphere and individualized service. They also may provide more networking opportunities by keeping attendees close at hand for meals and related events (less distractions by other influences to leave the program for alternative purposes), and perhaps a more discrete and intimate meeting environment to share new plans, directives, objectives and confidential information. In addition, such venues can provide a more inspiring atmosphere to your topics, different from the day-to-day business environment. Attendees are focused on the program and content, and then are motivated by the positive, private environment in which they’re gathered.
There may also be cost-saving benefits to meeting at resorts as well, including transportation savings, and in utilizing a unique venue at the resort for a reception or dinner, as there may be no need to go off-site. At the same time, a city center venue provides many off-night opportunities if you like to have one evening free for attendees to assimilate with their chosen peers.
So while easy access is very appealing and appropriate for some meetings and programs, a venue that is not quite as accessible could actually be a wise choice to better achieve your program objectives, as attendees may be more focused on the program, with fewer distractions. In these cases, choosing a venue in, for example, suburban areas of a larger city such as suburban Virginia, Georgia, Chicago, or a resort destination, could be the ideal choice.
For longer programs, accessibility is usually less of a consideration. While the top priority for any program is to select a venue that properly fits the criteria to match your objectives and needs, this is particularly the case for programs of four nights or longer. For these longer programs the venue needs to properly project the image of your franchise, and be consistent with its market positioning. Meetings and programs are a reflection of what the organization is, or what it strives to be. This includes how the program is conducted, and where.
When your franchise is a leader in its field, or aims to advance to be, then a first-class program in every respect should be the goal for both long and short meetings. In particular, high-quality venues and destinations which provide sustained first-class service and attention to details to meet the needs of the program and of your participants result in a very positive and memorable program experience for the attendees in every respect. Doing this serves as a positive reflection of your organization’s outstanding brand image, and reinforces to your franchisees how important they are to the organization, and to the organization’s success. And it will ensure a quality program which will be remembered for years to come.
For shorter programs there are often benefits to regional meetings. Having meetings, conventions or incentive programs closer to your franchise’s headquarters or to the franchisees can often meet all of the expectations of a first-class program, while offering cost-saving benefits to meet budget objectives.
High fuel prices affect virtually everything, including airfares. By selecting a site closer to home, you can often reduce overall expenses for the franchise or franchisees, because more attendees can reach the site by car or train, or can drive together.
In addition to travel cost-savings, you realize another benefit of higher attendance, as well as the often-overlooked time-saving benefit for key leadership and staff away from the office.
There can be “green” benefits, as programs conducted regionally tend to have less of a carbon footprint, since fewer individuals travel by air, and attendees may drive together or take mass transit.
All in all, thinking regionally may save time and money while effectively motivating franchisees, enhancing camaraderie, encouraging the exchange of information and providing an opportunity for them to meet their counterparts.
While meeting regionally isn’t always an option, or the best choice, for all programs, it can be a way to provide easier accessibility for your attendees. The good news is that there are many qualified and distinctive solutions that can work for you, as there are many exceptional offerings in each part of the country.
Another consideration regarding venue selection is whether attendees will bring families for a pre- or post-program stay. Accessibility is not as important if this is the case, so a resort with a wealth of recreational offerings or a destination like California, Florida, Hawaii and others may be the ideal choice.
Accessibility can be a key deciding factor when selecting your venue, particularly for shorter programs. But the top priority is always to choose the hotel or resort that will best suit your program’s objectives and needs, and create a distinctive experience to advance your own brand’s image and appeal.
David Gabri is president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International, which has the global sales responsibilities to the meetings and incentive marketplace for its distinctive portfolio of more than 140 four- and five-diamond quality hotels and resorts worldwide which specialize in meetings and conventions. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org via the directory.