Experts weigh in: How to navigate a tight venue market and secure a space for your events
1. Brace for sticker shock, especially the hotel rates. “Not only is the event industry strong, but transient business demand is very high in most major cities, too,” says Michael Hughes, managing director-research and consulting at the Event Marketing Institute. “Both trends combine to drive up rates.”
2. If key dates at the convention center or leading hotels are booked, work with the CVB to look at all other options in the city and region.
3. Work internally to see if you can consider off-season and shoulder/value seasons and dates.
4. Consider the next closest major market, or a second-tier city. Most mid-sized markets have ample convention center and hotel event and meeting space. But also consider any additional flight or transportation costs if you host the event in a smaller market with less airlift.
5. Review all hotel and venue contracts very, very closely and don’t be afraid to negotiate everything. It never hurts to ask. Remember your event or group will be considered based on “total revenue” potential to the hotel or center.
6. Book the crew early. There is a shortage of almost everything, which means you may need to book things likes audio packages, skilled audio engineers, stand designers, rigging companies, lighting companies and video directors a whole year out. “There is real competition for the best equipment and the best people,” says Proscenium’s Shearon.
7. Get creative with production. If a venue is completely booked, ask the production company that has your dates if you can buy a few of its load-in or load-out days, but get the venue’s OK first. Ask about sharing equipment, or pre-build your set before you arrive onsite. “It takes experienced people, but it is do-able,” says Jim Kirk, ceo at agency Corporate Magic.
8. Webcast or live stream the meeting to attendees in outlying offices that can’t make it to the event site. “But you have to shut down the whole company for a few hours and make a big deal of it, so they will feel like a part of it and want to attend,” Kirk says.
9. When space is tight, don’t cram attendees in. Instead, bring them in in waves to maximize hotel space.
10. Optimize the space you do have. “For a car dealer meeting in Chicago, we put 1,200 attendees on a revolving turntable surrounded by eight columns, giving them a 360-degree view of visuals and a small stage between two of the columns which was big enough for a car,” Kirk said.
11. If you have to split up your event space, figure out how to move people between properties, then smooth over perceptions of who is located where, suggests Keating.
12. Consider non-traditional event spaces that are still on-brand. Rather than a convention center or a hotel, maybe go into a warehouse, a museum, sporting arena, an airport hangar or even a sound stage.