By Victoria Hurley-Schubert
Choosing the right venue for an association conference takes smart, educated planning that involves time and legwork. You need to think like the meeting planner and the attendee to ensure you secure the right space in the right location.
First, make a list of everything your association will need from a venue to make sure anything isn’t forgotten throughout the process. This should include meeting spaces, lodging, dining, entertainment and special requests.
The venue should be large enough to accommodate all attendees comfortably in the main session and other components. Is there flexible space for breakout sessions, networking events and other event segments in-house or do you need to look at other venues in the area? Are there enough facilities for all attendees? If you are hosting an event that attracts mostly women, check if there are enough restrooms for everyone during the breaks. It may seem like a silly thing, but it matters to the guests who are on line and missing the beginning of their next session.
Is the venue in the right location? Finding somewhere that is close to transportation is important if you have many attendees who will be travelling long distances to attend. As you do your site surveys, put your attendee hat on and try and approach it as someone coming in for your event. Is there an easy way for people to get from the airport or train station to the venue? Is there easy access to taxis, shuttles or other transportation? If you are hosting mostly local and driving attendees, are the directions easy for attendees unfamiliar with the area?
For attendees who will be coming by car, survey the parking situation. Is there an onsite lot and can it accommodate everyone? Nothing is more frustrating for someone coming to an event than having to hunt down a parking spot and worse, especially in cities, wondering if it is a legit spot as they rush in late to the beginning of the meeting because they just spent forever looking for parking, running to the venue from blocks away, while worrying if they will have a ticket at the end of the day. This will become something people will remember about your event, and it’s not a good memory for them to have if you want them to return next year.
Also, is there a fee for parking? Can it be worked into the package for the meeting?
If you are returning to a venue, review past events and what the feedback has been from previous guests. Try to address what the complaints or issues were before resigning a contract or address them with a new place to ensure any complaints from the last venue can be avoided. It could be very helpful to research the venue and check online reviews to see what guests are saying—both pro and con—about a place before going to see it so you can address it with the on-site planner.