Almost two months before Cvent CONNECT, Rachel Andrews, Senior Manager of Meetings and Events, and her CONNECT production and event team flew to Las Vegas for their final site visit at The Venetian | The Palazzo. Below you’ll find a brief Q&A with Rachel, in which she discusses the ins and outs of the planner experience during the venue walkthrough. With her advice, hoteliers can cater directly to planners’ needs to drive greater group business and develop long-lasting business relationships with more satisfied clients.
Question: What did you hope to gain from the site visit?
Rachel: The CONNECT team really wanted to confirm all the final details and meet with the entire Venetian Palazzo team to nail down all the moving parts of an event of this magnitude.
Q: What timeline would you recommend from contract to site visit to event?
R: It depends on the size of the program and your contracting time frame. I would say most contracts should be signed a year to nine months before the event. Depending on the scope of the event, you can do multiple site visits:
- One before the contract is signed to make sure the space matches your RFP/program needs (a year or more in advance)
- One at least six months prior to the event start date to map out space, floor plans, and specs with all your vendors
- Then if you have the time, energy, and money – one or two months prior to review all final plans with the hotel and all relevant vendors.
Q: What preparations did you make with the venue before the visit?
R: Prior to our trip we also did the following:
- We put together an entire agenda that listed everything we wanted to view, what vendor meetings we were requesting, and what special event venues we needed to tour.
- Prepped with the entire planning team to understand everyone’s individual needs & questions: “One thing that was extremely helpful was using a Google doc to field all the questions from the teammates who were not traveling to the site visit. In the Google Doc, we broke out by the different areas of decisions that needed to be made: General sessions, breakout rooms, registration placement, and more. The entire planning team was able to ask their questions for their areas.”
- There were even a few prep calls with the Venetian Palazzo team. Open communication and quick status calls are very important.
- We kicked it off with a pre-site meeting where all introductions are made, followed by a full walk through of the conference center space. From there, each committee head could break off into individual meetings with their respective counterparts to talk through some of the floor plans and placement.
- As we walked the space, we asked the hotel team what has worked best in those particular spaces
- Visuals are very helpful: I walked around with a GoPro so we could show the Cvent Planning team the space – just like they were there!
Q: Who made up the team that went for the visit?
R: It’s really important to identify who is taking the lead on certain items (A/V & production, creative, special events management, F&B, sponsorships, etc.) and create an attack plan. Early on, we identified key committee heads to determine who was owning each piece both in pre-planning stages and onsite. It made the most sense for us to send the lead conference project manager (me), our lead producer (specs and general session), director of creative (all onsite visuals, creative production), and head of sponsorships.
Q: Who did you meet with onsite?
R: We met with the entire Venetian Palazzo team – Conference services, marketing, rooming, front desk, event services etc. We also met with vendors/sponsor partners: AV Concepts, Every TSR, Destinations by Design, and SES.
Q: What made the visit stand out?
R: When you are working with a powerhouse like The Venetian | The Palazzo, they very much have a get-it-done attitude. We had our site visit agenda and stuck to it. Luckily, they made sure we didn’t leave the hotel without sneaking in a gondola ride in their St. Mark’s Square area and a drink at Bourbon Room after the very long day of looking at all of the space, rooms, and special event venues. You have to make time to experience the hotel a little bit!
Q: How do you recommend hoteliers prepare for site visits, and how can they make it easier for planners?
R: There are a few things hoteliers can do to help planners:
- An understanding of the burden of travel and getting to/from the venue is helpful
- Contact cheat sheet with everyone the planners will be working with
- Planner packet with all meeting planning guides, floorplans, pricing, and spec sheets from all in-house vendors would be ideal
- Sending the guide prior to the site visit is key so planners are prepared with the right questions onsite
- Collaborating with the venue on the timeline prevents both parties from wasting time
Q: What is the biggest struggle you face pertaining to site visits?
R: I think the timing and schedule juggling is my biggest struggle. You ideally want all your vendors to be with you when you tour the space so all parties involved are seeing your vision. It sets the best foot forward for achieving. Given how fast paced this industry is, finding the right time that works for all vendors can be challenging.
Q: Explain your ideal site visit and what makes it successful.
R: I think having a lot of hands-on meetings to review what’s doable in the space is essential. All of that mixed with actually experiencing the property like an attendee would. If you don’t go through the normal check in process, the rooms, the food, how will you be able to provide a good attendee experience at your own event? Oh, that and golf carts. Please for the love of my poor feet.
Q: What do you wish hotel professionals knew about the planning process overall?
R: I think a lot of hotels are in tune with what we do daily. I think the hardest part is being the middle (wo)man between the business stakeholders on both sides and bringing everyone’s expectations to fruition while also letting your internal stakeholders know what is/isn’t possible. I think having those responses ready can make my job a lot easier.
Q: How can hotels improve how they accommodate planners in order to attract and retain business?
R: Keeping those relationships alive after the event! Just because the event is over doesn’t mean hotels shouldn’t reach out every 6 months or so to just say hi. We love to hear from suppliers we’ve worked with. It’s always a welcomed surprise to get a note like that!
Ready to learn more about attracting group business and pleasing planners during the sourcing process? Register for Cvent CONNECT 2016 to hear it from the experts.