Three Tips for Choosing Your Annual Conference Location

For many associations, an Annual Conference represents a large portion of revenue. With so much on the line, you need to ensure your event location will boost event attendance rather than deter it. But site selection is more than simply finding a beautiful hotel. If you’re a volunteer leader who hasn’t experience site selection before, here are three tips to help get you started. 

Tip 1: Map it out.

How does a conference city get selected? The answer is complicated, and it depends largely on the needs and wants of your attendees.

  • Consider where your members are located, as well as where your prospective members live and work. Would your attendees prefer a drive-to location, or do you need an international airport to accommodate travel?
  • Take a look at successful conferences in the past; was there a common theme in the locations that seemed to boost attendance? Some groups prefer urban destinations and some prefer smaller, and possibly more budget-friendly, cities. Or, perhaps your attendees want a destination resort for this event.
  • You will also need to consider weather factors based on the time of year when your event takes place; in the winter, cold weather cities could be shut down by winter storms, while in the fall, hurricanes could be a risk along the coasts.
  • If your industry has competing conferences, take a look at where those are held and how that factors into their success.
  • You’ll also need to know the booking patterns for certain cities—it’s not unusual for some cities to book events five years in advance.

Think critically about all these factors before narrowing down potential conference cities.

Tip 2: Narrow down the venue.

Once you have narrowed down cities, you still have to find the perfect venue. Again, factor in the needs of your attendees. Create a matrix of critical items so that you can objectively measure each venue’s ability to meet your needs. Ranking factors could include:

  • Travel costs for attendees—what is the cost for room nights and travel?
  • Hard costs for your event such as catering and rental fees.
  • Union vs non-union – how will this affect your labor costs?
  • Overall space—is there enough space for all the attendees as well as all the elements of your conference and does it accommodate potential growth? (For example, do you have enough square footage for your tradeshow? Are breakout session rooms big enough, and are there enough of them? How far do attendees have to walk? Are there spaces where attendees can organically meet and network? Will you need an overflow hotel?)
  • Time of year: Are you able to get your preferred event dates?
  • Can the hotel accommodate any specific vendors you’d like to use? (A/V companies, decorators, etc.)
  • Does the hotel meet the expectations of your attendees with regards to service standards, amenities, cleanliness, responsiveness?

Be sure to do an in-person visit of any venues that are on your short list so you can see and experience the venue yourself.

Tip 3: Know your contract.

Once you’ve selected your venue, it’s time to negotiate a contract. Your group may have specific contract language that is important to the success of your event. This could include food and beverage costs, cancellation clauses, room block minimums, hotel room rate parity, or a long list of other key items that protect the financial stability of your event. In a contract, everything is negotiable, and you’ll want to know where you can give and where you should push. An event of this size is a significant investment for your group, so take appropriate steps to protect that investment. But remember, it is a negotiation and being a good partner from the start is important.

With so much riding on your conference, it’s no surprise that there are so many considerations to site selection. By keeping the above factors in mind, you can ensure a great experience for your attendees. And if you ever need help with your event’s site selection, contact us. RGI provides site selection services for dozens of events across the globe each year, and we can help set you on a path for success.