Across the country, there are bargains to be found in great destinations. Meeting planners just have to know where—and when—to look.
Destination value dates are the small calendar windows when hotels, conference centers and locales are seriously looking to attract group business, and typically offering lower rates in order to do so. And while some planners operate with a healthy budget, most are always looking for a bargain—hoping to accommodate shrinking resources, or just wanting a little extra to spend on culinary options and fun program elements.
Many destinations are eager to work with planners who bring groups to town outside the their peak season; and by traveling to places like West Yellowstone in May or October, to Napa Valley in the winter or to Florida’s Emerald Coast in the summer, groups can expect to be greeted with low rates, booking incentives and open arms.
Meetings Focus checked in with a pair of savvy planners to chat about where and when they book to find great deals.
Group: National Stuttering Association (NSA)
Takeaway Tip: You don’t have to avoid holidays
Tammy Flores, executive director of the National Stuttering Association (NSA), says that the organization has held its national conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., twice, first in 2009 and again in 2013, making Arizona the only state she has repeated during her 18-year career. The conference rotates regionally though east, west and middle America and is typically held the last week in June or first week in July.
“I’ve found I get the best bang for my buck by booking over the Fourth of July,” Flores says. “We get amazing rates over the holiday.”
Flores grew up in Southern California and first chose to take the conference to Arizona because she “thought it would be fun to check out.”
Turns out, her attendees love it and are always asking to return to Scottsdale.
The NSA conference draws about 800 people and 1,500 room nights, plus they need approximately 15 breakout spaces and two ballrooms. According to Flores, another advantage of booking in the summer low season is that it is easy to get the function rooms they need.
“We’re the big fish in the pond in July, so we get exceptional service,” she says.
Additional group activities during the NSA conference typically include a baseball game or other casual activity on Wednesday as attendees trickle into town, a Thursday night reception and three big tour options on Friday, allowing attendees to choose their outing.
For these tours, Flores recommends utilizing school buses.
“They’re readily available in the summer, have air conditioning and create more savings that I can pass on to my attendees,” she says.
For families worried about missing out on holiday fun, she makes sure to plan festive activities and add fun touches into the conference schedule.
Group: Southeastern Shrine Association
Takeaway Tips: CVBs can be helpful; consider sports schedules and other popular local pastimes
Planner Gary Thigpen is working with the Southeastern Shrine Association to organize the group’s upcoming annual convention in Jacksonville, Fla., in addition to a smaller advance planning conference. The Shrine Association event rotates cities every year, and in 2014 will bring 3,000 attendees, representing nearly 2,000 room nights, to town in early August.
Thigpen reports that he can usually find good deals on Jacksonville lodging and event space in August.
“This time of year, Jacksonville is very affordable downtown, although the beach areas are still crowded,” he says.
He reports that the Shriner attendees like Jacksonville for the Florida weather, abundance of golf and accessibility to a variety of fishing excursions. The city also meets the space demands the group has, which include a large parking lot for a motorcycle competition with 1,000 bikes, indoor space for a clown competition and more-typical smaller meeting rooms.
“After Florida kids go back to school, there is a week or two where things aren’t too busy in the area,” Thigpen says. “But bookings and rates pick up around football season, and groups have to compete with other big fall events and outdoor concerts once the colder weather starts.”
He also reminds planners that city officials can be helpful, especially when groups need special event permits or want to coordination between various parties.
“The Jacksonville CVB is always great,” he says. “Especially with the big parade the Shrine Association organizes as part of this event.”