While drive-to meetings may appear to be less complicated and more budget-friendly than those involving air travel, planners charged with these meetings say putting the brakes on expenses and ensuring that attendees get a smooth ride are not simple matters. Everything from parking costs to venue choices and carpool options requires careful attention.

Parking Woes Prevention
Room rates are not the only hotel costs skyrocketing in many cities—so is parking. This was a hard lesson learned by Wanda Jewell, executive director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) in Columbia, S.C., who plans meetings and trade shows for members in 11 states, the majority of whom drive to the destination. At a recent trade show in New Orleans, Jewell was dismayed to find that attendees were faced with hotel parking charges of $40 or more per day.

“Parking is now on my radar in the way it wasn’t in the past,” she says. “Even though it’s still not as expensive in the South as it is in many places, parking is an area where more hotels and venues are looking to make money. I wished I had asked about it in New Orleans.”

While negotiating with hotels to reduce or provide complimentary parking is advised by planners, many are finding that it’s not always possible. A big obstacle is the fact that hotels and other venues often lease parking slots from outside companies.

“We always do our best to negotiate the parking costs, but a lot of hotels are telling us that they don’t own the parking lot and the prices are beyond their control,” says Laura Guerin, CMP, director of membership and events for the Southern Economic Council in Atlanta.

Because hotel valet parking is nearly always the most expensive option, providing a less-costly alternative is essential, according to Steve Parker, CMP, a veteran planner and vice president of communications for the South Florida MPI Chapter.

“Parking is much more of a cost issue than it was in the past, with valet parking easily costing $20 a day or more,” says Parker, who plans the monthly meetings for his MPI chapter. “So I always find nearby parking at a surface lot or some other alternative. Then, on the meetings registration page, we’ll list the alternatives to valet parking, along with the rates and directions to the lots.”

Similarly, Holly Stevenson, CMP, senior meeting planner for Cross Country Education in Brentwood, Tenn., says she always makes parking details a visible part of online meetings information as well as in any pre-conference e-mail communication to attendees.

Far from a small matter, addressing the parking situation is an important part of improving the meeting experience and keeping costs down for drive-to meeting attendees, who are likely to be regional association members paying their own way or on a tight budget.

“When you can provide free or reduced parking for your attendees, it shows that you are taking care of your people,” says Debbie Furman, CMP, senior meeting planner for the Texas Association of School Boards in Austin, Texas. “All of our school districts are run on public money, so our members have to be accountable. So any savings I can provide is a big help.”