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Destination Selection Key to Sustainable Meetings

It turns out the real estate agents were right. Location really does make a difference, whether you’re looking to buy a new home or scoping out a meeting destination.

A home with the right amenities and a short commute is ideal. Likewise, choosing a destination that is conducive to the event’s purpose, while taking into account how far attendees must travel, is the first step in producing a successful event. It is also the first step in producing an environmentally friendly meeting.

With today’s focus on healthy events for participants, minimizing travel is both an economic and environmental consideration. Participants want to reduce the amount of time spent on transportation and increase the amount of time they can spend at home.

Knowing where the participants are based is just one of the questions to ask as you determine the best location for your event. Understanding why location matters economically, environmentally and socially is paramount for the greater pleasure of your guests. Following are a series of questions to ask during the site selection process.

Is the city adequately served by airlines to minimize air travel?
Air travel is one of the biggest factors in an event’s carbon footprint, and no one enjoys layovers, changing planes and extra time to get to a destination.

If the majority of the participants can travel nonstop, the greenhouse gas emissions are greatly reduced and guests arrive more rested.

Is the city’s mass transit system adequate?
Can participants go directly from the airport to their hotels or the convention center?

The convenience of getting off a plane, right onto mass transit and arriving at the hotel saves time, money and the planet. Expenses for rental cars and taxis are eliminated.

Is the city walkable?
If participants can walk from the hotel to the meeting venue, you will save money on shuttle costs. Is it easy to walk to coffee shops, restaurants, shopping and nightlife? Is it easy to take a morning run before sessions? If the answer is yes to these questions, your participant’s experience will be much better.

Here is a recent true story to illustrate the point. A volunteer conference chair visiting the host city for the first time spotted the hotel from his airplane window upon landing. In an effort to learn more how his peers would experience the city, he started off on foot toward the hotel with his rolling luggage. He strode across the airport parking lot only to find a long fence. He marched along the fence until he could find an opening.

Once he maneuvered through the gate, he came to a highway with no pedestrian crossing. Determined to get there, he scrambled madly across the highway—luggage flying!—and he made it to the hotel. After settling in, he decided to explore the convention center. Once again, he could spot the convention center sign from his hotel.

Because of the busy roads and highway, there was no way to walk to the convention center, a restaurant or a store. Luckily, this time he turned back.

Does the destination’s convention bureau have a list of venues, properties and suppliers that have environmental practices in place?
Where can you go for a local or organic meal? Which hotels are environmentally friendly? Can you have tours or off-site events in natural attractions using alternative-fuel vehicles? Has this research already been done on your behalf by a CVB that is prepared for facilitating sustainable events?

When sending out requests for proposals for citywide events, include the environmental criteria you have developed and specify their importance. A city that understands the importance of eco-friendly meetings and has prepared a sustainable vendor list will be a more effective partner as you move into other aspects of event production.

Do these environmental considerations also increase the participant satisfaction?
If you were the attendee, wouldn’t it be a luxury to take just one flight, ride convenient/inexpensive transportation to the hotel and then walk to a local restaurant serving fresh, healthy food for dinner?

While it is unrealistic to believe that all destination decisions will be made on environmental considerations alone, these factors can be important when choosing between comparable cities. The more cities and venues understand and embrace environmentally responsible practices, the easier it will be.

The good news is that in the past five years sustainable vendors, venues and destinations have increased dramatically and meeting professionals have more options to choose the perfect location than ever before!

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About the author
Nancy J. Zavada | President, MeetGreen

Nancy is a leader and entrepreneur in the events industry focusing on sustainable business practices. She founded MeetGreen in 1994 after beginning her career as a corporate health care planner in 1978.