Site Selection: The Questions Continue

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

In a recent blog on destination selection, I covered tips on what to look for in air and ground transportation and local activities were covered. In the April 30 webinar (scroll down to “On Demand” webinars and the one titled “Site Selection Best Practices”), destination and site safety and security (including destination infrastructure issues), labor conditions, sustainability (of people and the environment), CSR – corporate social responsibility, and accessibility for people with disabilities were discussed with tips about what to do when a group is seeking destinations and sites. (You can listen to the webinar at any time and send questions to me here as comments at the end of the blog.)

There are so many more considerations when selecting a site – some dependent on a group’s demographics, objectives, and program, and others more generic – that we want to present more to include in your RFP, your questions, and if possible, to see when you conduct a site inspection.

Guest Room Types and Locations

One of my favorite industry expressions: rooms described as having a “partial ocean view”! I’ve always thought those were the ones that, if one’s head and part of her or his body were stuck out a window turned to the side, you might see a bit of water! Knowing what you may be buying and what your meeting participants will receive is critical to the happiness of their stay and the success of the meeting even if participants are only in their rooms to sleep. Ask:

  • How many floors are in the hotel and on each floor, how many rooms? How many rooms have one bed and what type and how many have two beds and what type are those? Does the hotel own roll-away beds or cots (which) and how many for use for additional people per room? Asking the maximum number of people allowed per room is critical especially if your participants bring family members or if there is greater triple or quadruple occupancy.
  • Many hotels in the United States are non-smoking; don’t assume all are. Find out if there are any rooms in which smoking tobacco is allowed and how many there are, their location, and the ventilation system between floors if smoking is allowed. Ask for a full description of ADA-qualified rooms – if they have roll-in showers, different configurations for HVAC controls and controls to operate window treatments; if all ADA rooms are equipped with Deaf Kits or if those are separate, and how many ADA rooms have connectors.
  • Speaking of connecting rooms, it’s nice for those who want to be next to their children or a relative or friend. These are not so nice, because of lack of sound-proofing, for other guests. Find out how many connecting rooms exist and how informed the front desk is about room types to advise people when they check in.
  • That last bit of advice is also about distance from elevators. Some people want to be far away; others (like me) want to be closer for easy access. Distance, I’ve found is subjective! Ensure the front desk has maps and can show guests exactly where their rooms are and know if the room is a connector.
  • People with allergies want to be in rooms that are designated hypo-allergenic. That usually means there are no feather products and no scented amenities and the HVAC vents are cleaned more often than others, tho’ cleaning of vents is critical to everyone’s health. Determine how many are in the hotel or what can they do to make a room friendly for those with allergies and how much time it takes.

Guest Room Amenities  

Travelers take it for granted that guest rooms will have a flat screen TV, a “comfortable” (based on someone’s taste) bed, bathroom amenities of shampoo, soap and perhaps other items. Don’t assume it! Ask about those items and others:

  • Is there an in-room safe in each room? Is there a charge to use it and what is that charge? If there is a mini-bar and how is it operated? Is there a restocking charge if anything is used? If so, what is that charge and is there a service charge and tax applied to the cost of the item and restocking? Ask if the mini-bar refrigerator is a real refrigerator or a cooler: those who want to store their own food and/or medicine will need to know. And if refrigerators don’t come with the room, ask how many the hotel has and what the charge is to use them. (If you know many in your group need refrigerators ask how many the hotel can rent and if there is both a charge-back to the guest or group and a mark-up on that charge and the amounts.
  • We all want free Wi-Fi and as much as we want that, we want a good desk, with outlets above the floor and plenty of them. My favorite “amenity” are the bedside lamps with outlets in them – great at night for all kinds of devices – especially with my “outlet adder”.We also want an adjustable good desk chair. Many “lifestyle hotels” have cool and funky chairs at the desk or no desk at all. Consider your audience when looking at the business needs in a room.
  • Are there landline phones on the desk, bedside, and in the bathroom? Many hotels are eliminating one or more of those which can be inconvenient if one’s mobile device doesn’t work in the room or additional help is needed. Not everyone gives out their mobile number and in an emergency the hotel (and meeting planner) may need a method of reaching a guest. Ask too about the voice messaging system and if it’s accessible outside one’s guest room.
  • There are many people who do not travel with all the electronics that some of us expect they do. Ask about radios with or without a port for an MP3 player. Are there other electronics in the room for entertainment and/or business use? If a coffee maker is in the room, ask if coffee (tea? other beverage?) and condiments are complimentary, or if is there is a charge on the first use or on subsequent uses, and a restocking fee. If there are fees, what are those fees? Then there’s the ironing board and iron. Even we short people may have long clothing and some ironing boards are mini ones. Nothing more frustrating to learn that until after one is attempting to iron.

Guest Room Safety

There are some obvious areas that most planners consider when looking at guest room safety. Those include: internal or external (outside) access to guest rooms; location of exits, fire extinguishers, emergency exits. Many hotels have eliminated house phones in hallways or only have them near the elevators. Find out. If an emergency occurs near a guest’s room and one’s mobile device is not in hand, lack of house phones could add to the emergency.

Other areas to include in your questions:

  • Smoke and CO2 detectors in all guest rooms; in hallways
  • Audible or visual smoke detectors in ADA rooms; Deaf Kits for other rooms with those included
  • Sprinklers in all guest rooms; in hallways.
  • Fire extinguishers in hallways; how often tested
  • Automatic fire doors
  • Auto link to fire station
  • Auto recall elevators
  • Ventilated stairwells; stairwells with emergency lights
  • Visible emergency information in all guest rooms
  • Safety chain or bar on door and doors with viewports (“peep holes”)
  • Deadbolts on all guest room doors
  • Restricted access to guest floors
  • Secondary locks on guest room glass doors
  • Room balconies or patios accessible by adjoining rooms/patios/balconies (if applicable)
  • What are the SOPs for power outages? What is the power back up? How many generators are on property and what do they power?
  • If a guest has an emergency, should they call “911” or other local emergency number or the hotel front desk or help line? Is the front desk always staffed to answer the phone? How many rings does it take at noon? 6 pm? Midnight? 3 to 7 a.m.?

And our favorite: bedbugs. How are guest rooms checked and protected? How often? What does the property do to ensure elimination of bedbugs?

The items in this blog, the previous blog and the webinar are a fraction of what I include in the RFPs and the questions I ask when helping clients select meeting destinations and sites. It pays to be this thorough. If you were buying an electronic device, you’d want to know more than what’s on the outside, right? It’s even more important to have a complete picture and details of what you are ‘buying’ for a meeting.

Next time I’ll delve into on-property amenities and services. Those continue to change rapidly.

Destination Selection – But Wait…There’s More!

This article was originally published on Meeting Focus Blog.

In the April 2014 issue of Meetings Focus and online, industry veteran planners shared their expertise on site selection.

It was just the tip of…well, I was going to say “iceberg,” but they are melting. So let’s say it scratched the surface!

In this blog and during the 4/30/14 Site Selection Best Practices webinar, I’ll explore other areas and issues often overlooked when meeting destinations and sites are considered. I’ll use a technique called Q-storming® within each area to provide some questions you can ask.

Use the following content as a guide to start your own list of questions. I hope too you will add to the discussion items you consider important, especially ones that you learned just when you thought you knew it all, and questions we all can use.

Destination Selection

  • Transportation: Air

Lift & Access:  Airline mergers have meant that many cities have lost service entirely or have curtailed service now or they will, especially when the USAirways/American merger settles. How many seats are available into and out of the destination? From what cities? How many stops/layovers will it take most of those attending to get to the destination? Will participants be comfortable with and/or accept the travel times? What might impact the amount of lift into that destination and how will that information be tracked internally?

Cost: You’re right – we don’t know from one minute to the next what airline tickets and add-on fees will be. We can, at least at the time the destination is determined, look at current costs and provide input about what might impact future costs for those booking more than 6 months out. What is the current average airfare from “hub” and non-hub destinations? Of the airlines that service the destination, which ones have the most add-on charges? What will most impact the cost of airfares in general and into that destination? (See note on “other activities.”)

Airport: Some airports are expanding their runways and others are adding new or remodeling current terminals. What’s planned for the airport(s) into which our participants will fly? How many airports serve the destination? What is the lift into each?

  • Transportation: Ground

Types, Times and Costs: If you live in a city with great public and private (cabs, car service, shuttle) transportation, you may not realize what others cities have to offer. What are the current options to and from the airport? Are they all accessible for people with disabilities? What are the costs? Is public transportation available 24 hours/day? Is it safe? Are all car services allowed to come into the airport to pick up passengers? What are the current costs for each type of transportation? If one wants to travel by train, how many trains per day arrive and depart and from and to what destinations?

Timing: What is the average time to get to or from the airport/s and the site of the meeting and/or hotels? If one has to walk to and from the start and end points of public transportation, how far is the walk and is it safe? If there is highway construction or if there are accidents, what are the options to go around the area to get to and from the airport/s?

Driving to and from the destination: What is the drive time for those who are in a radius most likely to drive? Is it cheaper, faster, better for more people to drive? If many people are day guests, will they use and will you encourage public transportation? What is the cost and access for its use? How many parking spaces does the facility have? Are they attached to the facility or nearby? If nearby, how far are parking garages and lots? Is the route to and from where a car is parked to the facility well-lighted and safe? Who owns the parking garage or lot? If it is not owned by the facility in which your meeting or participants are housed, are the prices negotiable? Is valet parking available?  Does the destination anticipate new parking facilities and/or tearing down current garages or lots?

  • Other Activities:

It’s so easy to forget that all destinations have more than even the city-wide you may be booking on their calendars. In some cases, cities have regularly occurring yearly events; in other cases they are booking events and meetings short term.

Regularly Occurring Events: What events are already on the books or are likely to occur over the dates you are considering? What are attendance records? Are participants usually local to the area and driving or using public transportation in and out of the area/s of the event/s sites? What has been the experience with traffic and parking options? Do these events draw a national or international audience that may increase air traffic (and airline fares and crowds at the airport and on the roads going and coming) into the destination? How has the city handled safety and security for these events? What has been changed after an incident occurred? Is this an event that our participants are likely to want to attend? Will want to bring family or others to see (And will that impact our room block)?

Other Events: What is the city currently trying to book for the year and dates over which we want to hold our meeting? What is the expected impact on the city – air and ground travel? Media? Security? Hotel room and other facility usage? What will take precedence for the space – their event or ours? What other meetings are currently booked and into which facilities? How many people will that bring into the city?

Other Events/Other Impacts: When there are other meetings or events in town, it means that there is competition for services. You might find that all DMCs or transportation providers are already booked or if they aren’t, they may not have enough local drivers. (From where do you hire drivers? How do they learn or know the area? Will they be contractors with your company or employees?) Do local cab or car companies do surge pricing when there is high demand? If your group likes to eat at local restaurants or you have exhibitors or others who entertain clients, will there be private dining and/or reservations available at the preferred restaurants? (Do those restaurants accept reservations? How far in advance?)

Oh there are more concerns and questions! I’ll cover more on Wednesday, April 30 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time in the Webinar or you may listen to this webinar (after its live date) and access others On Demand at the Meetings Focus web site.