Choosing Your Event Venues May Take More Planning and Creativity

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A recent study titled The Decision to Attend for Conventions & Exhibitions said that we should entice people with ways to extend their stay. It's time for new thinking, the report says. "For decades, our industry has viewed attendees as people who 'come in and out' of the destination for meetings, conventions or exhibitions with success measured by final attendance, filling the block, and overall economic impact. But today, over 50% of attendees are likely to extend their stay."

This could be one reason that Las Vegas has shot up on the top event locations in North America. In another report titled, 2019 Meetings & Events Future Trends Report, Las Vegas jumped from 10th place to first in a single year. Other top cities were—no surprises here—New York, Orlando, and Boston. Meanwhile, the report recommends that planners keep an eye on San Diego, Toronto, and Nashville as rising event locales.

Here are more takeaways from the latter report and a couple experts on event planning.

Plan further ahead. Tighter markets mean that facilities designed for more than 100 attendees are often booked more than four months in advance, according to the report, while those that accommodate 400 or more are booked up between six and nine months in advance. Large conventions have to reserve space more than a year ahead of time.

Turn your event into a festival. I wrote about this 3 years ago, and now I'm seeing it in a 2019 Trends report: "The rise of festivalization—designing an immersive business event that echoes some of the best parts of a consumer festival—means more focus on co-curation of sessions, social media activity and innovative workshops, visuals and venue design." It could also mean more art and food themes.

Know your audience. "You should start by finding out what makes for a great day, what brings [attendees] joy, what allows them to be successful," said Lisa Kay Solomon, chair of transformational practices at Singularity University. "Notice, this is not 'Do you like my product?' This is about them. This is about understanding how you create value for them from their standpoint. That is empathy and deep customer understanding."

Get more personal. Last year, Robyn Duda, who now runs Robyn Duda Creative after seven years at event giant UBM—the last four as VP of brand strategy & experience design—talked about a specialty chemicals conference that she took over. "Finding the beauty in that was difficult," she said. "I decided to make the trip to Cleveland, Tenn., to visit the chemical plant there—HAZMAT suit and all. "I ended up sitting at a table with a grandfather, father and son of this company, hearing why they weren't happy with the brand. They didn't feel like we cared about them. We were the big, bad company that took over and ate up this event they had and raised prices. Nobody had ever talked to them about what mattered to them. That was all they needed—to feel like we cared."

Be open in looking for spaces. For another group we run, Association Media & Publishing, the conference took place in a venue called the National Housing Center in Washington, D.C. It was perfect. Some event planners look at college venues—great atmosphere, cheaper perhaps, especially in summer. "Where venues are concerned, the more exclusive the better—either in the sense an attendee would not have the money to go there themselves, or they would not have access to that venue," said Tiina Muukari, Global Supplier Management, Nordic Zone, CWT Meetings & Events. "Customers are tired of conventional hotel rooms."

Choose a venue where you can integrate gamification. This can also apply to evening events you stage during your conference. Museums are natural places for scavenger hunts. Colleges might be ripe for some trivia nostalgia games. Attendees want to be more engaged and involved. "So often, our learning design is too much about content and not enough about action," said Karl Kapp, director of the Institute for Interactive Technologies. "Game design is all about action. Give learners something to do."

"Demand continues to outpace supply of meetings-eligible hotels," noted CWT Meetings & Events Senior Director and Global Lead Nathan Brooks. "The demand for meetings, which includes accommodation, is going to be significantly challenged by a lack of inventory. Continuing industry consolidation means fewer options for buyers, and that will push prices up."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…