A meeting that grows each year is a good thing, by most measures. But with success comes a price. More attendees and exhibitors could mean that the meeting has to move from a hotel to a convention center, which can be more expensive and more challenging. Groups may have to pay for meeting space, hire more vendors, deal with more contacts and, and shell out for transportation costs. Also, it could involve moving into a less intimate hall, which could have an impact on the attendee experience.
At the American Society of Association Executives annual meeting in Chicago last August, the topic was the subject of a session led by a panel of experts — including Eric Janecke, director of marketing, Hilton Riverside New Orleans; David McAuley, director, Washington, D.C., area office for the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau; Kathy Schultheiss, deputy director, sales and marketing, Phoenix Convention Center; and Lisa Furfine, associate publisher of SportsTravel magazine, which sponsors the Travel Events and Management in Sports conference. The panel discussed the potential pitfalls and best practices.
Understand the convention center's event planning process. “Every model is different,” said Schultheiss. Planners should find out if they will be assigned one point of contact for all services and needs or several from the various departments. Also, they should request that the manager overseeing the event be included in all site visits and preliminary discussions.
Know what's included in the facility rental. Don't assume things like water, tablecloths, and other services are included. Find out if the room comes with audiovisual equipment and if there are charges for room sets. And determine if there are additional charges for different seating styles.
Ask to see a copy of the convention center's use or license agreement. They are usually much more complex than the typical hotel. Will the convention center consider language changes should your legal team deem them necessary? And what are the insurance requirements?
Be prepared to discuss your previous year's budget with convention center staff. They will be able to quickly run down the list of expenses and identify items or services that will be billable. They can also inform you of items you will need that you probably didn't need at a hotel. This will help you put together a realistic budget with no surprises. Since convention centers have strict rate policies and ordinance guidelines, the information will not be used to raise prices, the experts said.
Read the convention center facilities guide. Planners should familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations of the center before signing a contract.
Understand what exclusive contracts the convention center has in place. Meet with these service providers early to identify costs and clearly understand the services provided.
Know the convention center's event security requirements. Groups may be required to provide event security, a costly budget item.
Make sure there is no fine print allowing your group to be bumped for another event within a defined window prior to your event.
Know that exhibit space at a convention center is not as easily transformed for other uses, such as a closing night banquet.