Originally published Meetings Today
Groups tend to focus their site selection efforts on finding the specific venue/facility in which their meetings will be held. Selecting the destination, the city/state and country—is at least as important. And I’ve got plenty of other considerations, including sustainability (human and environment)! Here are six major details to reflect on during the site selection process.
1. Taxes and Additional Charges: Too many people think the rates and prices they are quoted are “the final price” and that nothing more will be charged. On top of a room rate, there may be a state or local sales tax, a tourism tax or fee, and other charges. Some are flat fees and some percentages. For food and beverage prices, the tax (usually sales), always added to the price of the meal, can also be added to a service charge (different than a gratuity). Often the venue will charge an administrative fee, which can also end up being taxed.
2. Laws. In your RFP—in addition to asking the current tax rate—ask what laws are being considered to raise taxes. Research the “best and worst” U.S. cities for hotel taxes; and it can be extremely helpful to keep an eye on and subscribe to business journals.
Following the business journal and news outlets for the destinations you are considering will allow you to know what’s on upcoming ballots or what’s been passed or defeated that may impact your meeting and those who attend it. For example, we recently saw the defeat of Proposition 1 in Houston, a proposed law supported by the Houston CVB, Marriott, United Airlines, and others that would have prevented discrimination against any number of groups of people.
We have to be sure the laws of cities to which we take our meetings are in line with the bylaws, missions, and policies of our organizations to ensure there are not conflicts.
3. Climate and Weather. Sure we all think we know about “hurricane season” but outbreaks of storms have been erratic around the U.S. and the world. Severe droughts in California and Brazil, in particular, have caused shortages of water. If you plan a winter meeting, snow or the lack thereof could be a positive or a problem! El Nino is expected to wreak more weather havoc.
4. Infrastructure. It’s remarkably on few minds when a destination is considered. Although the U.S. Congress passed a new highway bill, the roads, bridges and water infrastructure of the U.S. are aging horribly. Even here in D.C., where I live and work, the water main breaks are legendary, shutting down roads and causing many to be without sources of water.
This 2013 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers is a good place to start.
5. Accessibility. This is a broad and complex area—everything from airline access to access for people with disabilities has to be considered. Recent experiences at an airport taught me that not all airports (even in first tier markets) have sufficient services for people with disabilities.
And airline mergers means lift has been cut to many markets. If people can’t get there or it takes two or more changes of plane, they may reconsider. The U.S. Department of Justice is doing random checks of hotels; many cities, like Boston, have offices on disability awareness and can give you stats about, for example, how many taxis are accessible.
Check with them for help with accessibility issues.
6. Safety. How could I write a blog on site selection without acknowledging the horrors in Paris, the threat to the U.S. and a recent threat in Germany that caused a soccer match to be canceled? And there are ordinary safety concerns about which we all should care: access for police and other emergency services to the facilities in which you’ll hold an event; lighting in areas people will frequent (Check out the following blog post for more about safety in a facility).
The U.S. Department of State is, for planners taking meetings outbound or in, a good resource for country safety, including weather and human factors. And use DMOs (aka CVBs) for additional info. This is not to say don’t go if there are obstacles or concerns. Certainly we won’t stop travel to Paris or D.C. or other cities in the world. Rather, factor in these and other issues when selecting destinations. Know what you will do to manage and counter the issues that could have caught you by surprise if you hadn’t looked closely in the selection phase.
Be smart and aware when selecting destinations!