DOWNTOWN MEETINGS can be an expensive proposition, but deal-minded planners have plenty of strategies for keeping costs down. Here are 15 good ones, compiled from interviews with meeting planners, convention bureau officials, destination management professionals, and other industry experts.
- Use universities
Cities such as Boston are teeming with universities. Contact the schools' music departments to inquire about hiring a student or instructor to perform at cocktail parties or functions.
- Find local discounts
Not-for-profit organizations such as museums, art institutes, or historical societies often offer reduced rates for groups. And in Washington, D.C., the museums on the Mall are open to the public, free of charge. Entertainment venues such as aquariums, planetariums, city tours, sporting events, and theaters may have generous bulk-rate packages.
- Let attendees entertain themselves
It's not hard to figure out why Las Vegas and San Francisco are two of the most popular meeting destinations — there's so much to do. So let attendees have an evening or two to themselves.
- Catering to your needs
The sidewalks may roll up early in some smaller cities, but shops, services, restaurants, and attractions are often willing to be flexible to accommodate a group's specific needs.
- Find out who's in town
Look for entertainers who are scheduled to perform in the city the week you arrive and see if they're available for your function. You can save money on travel costs, hotel, and meals.
- Go straight to the source
Book acts and entertainers through local nightclubs, casinos, or CVBs, and avoid the booking fees of an agency.
- All under one roof
Some downtown convention centers encompass more than one venue. The Oncenter Complex in Syracuse, N.Y., for example, combines a convention center, conference center, theater, and arena, so along with lots of meeting space it's also home to the local symphony, opera, and a minor league hockey team. Meeting groups that book the complex can get discounts on games or concerts.FOOD AND BEVERAGE
- Piggyback onto another event
If another group is meeting at the same time and place, find out what they're eating. You may be able to negotiate an F&B discount by asking the chef to make more of what he's already preparing.
- Let's do lunch
For a group function, consider a major presentation in the middle of the day with a plated lunch, which is usually about half the price per person of a lunch buffet. Dinner is usually twice the cost of lunch.
- Walk to dinner or drinks
For your dining and entertainment pleasure, a mix of clubs and restaurants is usually within walking distance of many downtown venues.OTHER WAYS TO CUT COSTS
- Go off-season or on weekends
Planning a winter meeting in Boston or a summer event in Miami is a good way to find great deals on hotels and meeting space.
- Use local speakers
They may be less expensive than big-name presenters, and you'll save on travel costs.
- Use fewer buses
Instead of booking multiple mini-coaches, reserve fewer large buses to transport attendees to events around town.
- Find free shuttles
In cities where the airport is not too far from downtown, many hotels offer complimentary bus service.
- Ask the CVB
CVBs are resources for everything froma meeting to local vendor recommendations. “We know the city and are happy to share our knowledge and resources to assist the client in hosting a successful and cost-effective meeting,” states Jane Rice, manager, convention services, Atlanta CVB.