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Site Selection–Balancing Location and Program Necessities

Whether companies are planning a large convention or a smaller meeting for their franchisees or corporate officers, one of the most important decisions to make is where to host your program. But before deciding the location, it is imperative to first identify and understand the program necessities. In fact, this can be as important as the location itself.

Program Necessities
So what are the program necessities that should be determined before selecting the location?

There are several, including:

• Outline the objectives. Decide the key message(s) of the program and the distinctiveness considerations to best support your branding and attendee expectations.

• Determine the focus. This could be: to build and enhance important business relationships; to advance one or more important objectives; to motivate attendees; to sustain and build results and market share; and to provide direction and leadership.

• Analyze attendees’ access. Where will the core attendees be coming from? Will they be coming from one region, from within the United States or from other countries? Also, identify the access points for attendees. Will the majority of the attendees have relatively easy, and timely, access to the location(s) that are being considered? This could mean convenient access to the airports or mass transportation or to a location within a reasonable drive.

• Growth. Determine how the program will grow, or consolidate, to meet the future needs of the attendees (both franchisors and franchisees). Meeting spaces and expected room ratios are important when the venue provides its best response to your RFP.

• Service Attendees. Identify what makes the program valuable for attendees. Is it supplying time with exhibitors? Or is it providing an environment where best practices can be exchanged or training is conducted? Or is it providing a forum where peers can bond, advance concepts and expand relationships?

• Variable Audience. Determine if there will be different audiences among your attendees, and if so, choose a venue to address their unique needs.
o For example, a first- year owner of a franchise may have different objectives for attending than those of someone who has owned multiple franchises for many years.
o Also, Baby Boomers (born 1947-1964) tend to like
meetings with longer breaks, enjoy motivational speakers, love golf and spas, and enjoy group activities. Whereas Generation Xers (born 1965-1980) tend to like shorter sessions, less
breaks and prefer speakers
that present relevant information. While Generation
Y (or Millennials) (born
1981-2000 or so) like to be asked
questions and thrive on
interactivity.

Specific Program Needs
After outlining the program necessities, identify the number of guest rooms needed, the quantity of meeting rooms required, the sizes (capacity) of the meeting rooms for the various sessions and the desired dates of the program. If there is flexibility on the dates or pattern, your company will get greater value by working with a chosen property. Of course, when selecting the optimal dates and pattern, be sure to identify the days of the week that will work best for your attendees.
Also, consider whether networking opportunities will be a focus and if there are on-site or off-site offerings that will be important to the success of your program. Many hotels and resorts have special areas to accentuate these desires, with little or no extra charge.

Resorts Versus City Hotels: Advantages to Both
One of the key decisions concerning the location is whether to stage the meeting at a resort or at a city center hotel. In fact, there are advantages to both.
Resorts often offer more networking opportunities by keeping attendees close at hand for meals and functions. Meeting at a resort can also contribute to positive and creative thinking, and can provide a more discreet meeting environment to share new plans, objectives and directives. There also can be cost-saving benefits, including transportation savings, as there may be no need to go off-site.
For smaller groups, small resorts can provide an appealing intimate atmos-phere. These properties can be particularly attractive for groups that require total confidentiality or that wish to use the hotel’s beautiful public spaces for private functions.
Larger resorts typically offer onsite recreation and diverse activities that encourage interaction between attendees. A wealth of recreational offerings also can lead to attendees bringing their family for a pre- or post-program stay, and can lead to greater overall satisfaction with the program.
Distinctive city center hotels in dynamic metropolitan areas also provide many benefits. This includes often easier, and timelier, access to the meeting for attendees. Plus the group can experience the vast entertainment, cultural, dining and business-related offerings of the city.
There also can be benefits to selecting a hotel in a smaller city. These destinations typically provide a great value and are often very accessible, with the option of low-cost carriers. Your group may be the major player in-house, and these properties and communities are often very service-driven to make attendees feel special. The smaller markets also often have availability when the major markets are booked.

Other Factors to Consider
When selecting your property, there are several additional factors to consider. First, make sure that the hotel or resort properly reflects the character and quality of your organization. The location should meet, or slightly exceed, the market position of your franchise and related colleagues. Remember, your choice makes a lasting impression, and attendees often rate conferences by food quality, ambience, distinctiveness, service levels and the people they interacted with–even before the business content in many cases.
Also, make sure the property will provide a positive learning environment that will help advance your objectives. It should be distinctive and fresh to invigorate and inspire attendees, and to positively reflect the direction of the franchise.
Also, make sure that the resort or hotel is cost effective for your franchisors and franchisees to attend.

Identify Your NSO
A great way to identify properties that will suit your program’s specific needs is to work with a National Sales Organization or NSO of your favorite brand as it is a “one-stop shop.” They can check multiple hotels, on multiple levels, in multiple destinations with one discussion. This saves your organization time and resources by not having to call and explain your desires to each of the properties possibly being considered. NSOs direct your program opportunity to their on-site sales manager partner at each hotel, emphasizing the importance of your meeting, and ensuring a quick and meaningful response.
NSOs can also suggest alternative solutions to fit your needs, and can provide insight into bargains. They also can provide information about hotels where a cancellation may have just taken place, providing your group incremental buying power. In addition, NSOs understand the account’s total business opportunity, and can help influence their properties on the importance of accepting your business over other opportunities. This is important as we move back toward a sellers’ market.
Selecting where to conduct your program is a very important decision for your brand. By identifying the program necessities and specific program needs, determining the type of property that will best accomplish your objectives, and by utilizing your favorite NSO resources, your company can find the location and hotel or resort that will provide the ideal platform for your program. 

David Gabri is president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International, which has the national sales responsibilities to the meetings and incentive industries for its portfolio of more than 130 Four- and Five-Diamond quality hotels and resorts worldwide which specialize in meetings and conventions. He can be reached at dgabri@alhi.com.

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