The following insights are courtesy of Katie Allen, complex director of sales at Sheraton and Westin Kansas City at Crown Center. The combined venues offer 1,454 guest rooms and 150,000 square feet of event space.
During the RFP process, clients often fail to build in coffee breaks or share detailed F&B history, so many proposals are sent without a “placeholder” for coffee breaks (typically twice a day) or without the knowledge of the group being heavy drinkers on the opening night reception. Too many times the planner will take the estimated food and beverage presented at the proposal stage and build their registration fees from it; not giving an allowance for additional food and beverage costs.
Another spending/budgeting error is in the way F&B may be marketed to a group and an attendee’s impression of how much or often they might be fed. Placing “breakfast” on an agenda but ordering a finite number of coffee by the gallon and Danish by the dozen will almost always lead to unhappy attendees who came hungry expecting something more substantial.
What is most important to achieving your conference objectives? Is having a live feed to two screens in a meeting room for 300 people truly worth the additional expense? Could you take a similar amount of money and invest in faster Internet for your attendees?
It is important to understand that there are a number of tiers within the technology realm and you need to really know when you need the Cadillac vs. the Camry; in most cases you can accomplish the same objectives but you may not need H if standard is available. Obtain as much history of your data use as possible so you can take that to the table when working with HSIA (high-speed Internet access) needs; how many users, how many devices, streaming video or checking email, etc.
Know your group’s willingness to be on time and not dawdle. Your transportation company will quote your needs based off the number of passengers and the route; you need to be candid about their speed and timeliness so they may quote a buffer hour should you need it.
I have seen many social groups that end up overspending on their transportation because they didn’t provide enough coaches, allowing the coaches to leave half-full to make the roundtrip from the hotel to their destination and back, but their attendees were in no hurry to load the bus on either end of their program, causing many additional runs after contracted hours. That can add up quickly.
Entertainment and Education/Speakers
You have to do an ROI on what this expense brings to the conference. Are you able to grow your programs and is your attendance relatively fixed? If your attendance cannot grow to offset any additional expense in getting a top-dollar entertainer or speaker, can you get a sponsor to assist with that portion of the program?
Is the entertainment or speaker in full alignment with your conference goals? Is the attendance at the entertainment portion mandatory, or do you allow attendees to either purchase or not purchase a ticket to the event? In either case, always get a rider in advance of confirming a speaker or entertainment as they often contain additional needs that are a cost back to the hiring organization: airport transfers, hospitality, travel companion expenses, etc.
For educational content, ask yourself, is there anyone within the organization who can present the same material in a similar light-hearted manner that may also be able to connect better with the attendees as he or she is one of them? This often has as much impact and can save you precious dollars.