8 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Conference Venue
Dozens of factors go into the venue selection process. Obviously, you want the most impressive facility for your conference. Meeting Planners need to make an informed decision based on what each venue has to offer in terms of accommodations, location, pricing and availability.
Here are a few questions or issues to be aware of as you search for your next conference venue.
1. The Venue
Venues vary significantly. Some are just a large empty room, while others have multiple rooms and floors with various amenities. You should familiarize yourself with the layout of the venue. If you are hosting multiple concurrent workshops, or wish to offer VIP attendees a separate experience, then you will need a venue with distinct rooms offering that capability. It is key that your venue offers the spaces and resources to host your type of event flawlessly. Think about your program and all of its needs and keep that in mind as you search for the perfect venue.
It helps if the venue is located within a stone’s throw of landmarks. This is especially useful for out of town guests. You can market the conference as an opportunity for checking out the town and its attractions, restaurants, museums and entertainment and shopping district. Make note of any nearby areas worth a visit pre- or post-event. For local conferences, consider a location fairly close to the majority of the attendees for easy access.
Catering is often thought of as a separate element from the venue, however; the two are intertwined. Most venues have their own catering service. If you opt for outside catering services you may be required to pay an additional fee. This is actually standard practice with most venues to ensure they acquire the highest profit margins.
This is especially the case with venues that are frequently used for weddings. Such venues charge what is known as a cake-cutting fee if the cake is brought from an outside baker instead of using the venue’s own bakery service. A corking fee may be assessed as well for the serving of outside alcoholic beverages.
Check with the venue ahead of time to see if there are charges for using outside catering services. Your venue contract should outline such charges.
How many parking spaces are there in relation to the number of attendees? If parking is limited, you may want to advise attendees to carpool. If parking is going to be tight, where is the next nearest parking lot or garage?
You also need to enquire if parking permits or passes are required. Venues usually hand out a limited number of permits or passes for staff members. Try to see if you can negotiate to get a few additional permits for your guests, especially your VIP attendees.
Consider offering valet parking for locations or venues where parking is a bit challenging. Make sure you understand the opening times of garages that may be used by your attendees. If your event lasts until midnight, but the parking garage closed at 10:00 p.m., many guests may be stuck.
5. Rental Fee
Venue rental will likely be one of the single biggest overhead costs; do expect fees in the five-digit range, especially if opting for an upscale facility. Luckily, this is also an area where you can save big. Anything is negotiable.
Most venue prices vary depending on demand. If possible, try to schedule your event during a time when demand is at its lowest. This usually includes Mondays through Thursdays, and during winter, or summer depending on the region, and after all major holidays have ended. Aside from being cheaper, the venue is also more likely to be available during those times.
If pricing is a consideration, flexibility in date and time will help you reduce your cost by moving your event to low season, or times where the venue may be less booked, or may even have short term availability.
6. Wi-Fi and Tech Accessibility
How strong is the venue’s Wi-Fi? Can people generally get good reception? Are there plenty of sockets where guests can charge their mobile devices? Technical accessibility is important from your end as well. You need to know, for instance, if audio/visual equipment is included or if you need to supply your own.
If guests are struggling to use their devices, you can bet that it will be a factor in their overall critique of the event. Always test the venue’s Wi-Fi before booking a venue. Temporary Wi-Fi access can always be brought on by a third-party service.
What does the rental fee include besides use of the facility? Some venues provide custodial, bartender, and security services. Others may also have some extras that guests will appreciate, such as a pool table, massage chairs, spa, or a gym. Smaller amenities may include complimentary use of the facility’s printing/copying machine, free bottled water, and so on.
Get a good understanding pre-signing your venue contract about what is included in your venue cost, tax /VAT and service rates, and what will be extra, and at what cost.
Some guests may be coming from other areas, or even out of the country. These people are going to need overnight accommodations. Is the venue a hotel or resort? Is there a hotel within a block of the venue? If hotels are farther away, is there a shuttle that travels directly to the venue?
Research nearby lodging centers, both boutique hotels and cheaper motels. If multiple guests require lodging, then check with these places to be sure there is enough vacancy for the day of the event. It also doesn’t hurt to enquire about possible room blocks for your group.
You need to be proactive and ask questions when choosing a venue. You need to know the venue like the back of your hand if you hope to give your guests the best conference experience possible.
This is a guest post by Dan McCarthy, Event Manager at JD Parties, an event management company based in the UK. Dan has five years of event project management under his belt. He has worked on many successful events, and currently he shares his knowledge by writing on the company blog. Follow him on Twitter @DanCarthy2.