The initial discovery process for sourcing in-person meetings has changed since pre-pandemic. Having open and honest conversations will lead to a more comprehensive and transparent sourcing process to ensure the personal safety and security of all your participants. In this episode, our host, Jeff Naue, Special Projects Marketing Lead, catches up with Kristen Allan, Manager of Hotel Procurement, who recently conducted a site visit.
For our listeners, be sure to catch the second part of this episode when Kristen shares insight about 2022 being referenced as the “come back year” for in-person meetings. While momentum is building and confidence growing, we are still in constant change when it comes to sourcing meetings and events. Event stakeholders and planners need to ask more and different questions before determining the best destination and hotel venue for their event. The RFP questions go well beyond confirming if your event is in-person or hybrid.
Tune in for our interview with Kristen Allan to make sure you are armed with the information needed to safely source your next event.
To stay up-to-date on M&IW’s efforts on safety initiatives and protocols for returning to in-person events, be sure to turn into our Events > Forward Podcast Series. In each episode, we interview subject matter experts on relevant and timely topics. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Hello everyone and thank you for joining us. Today I will be interviewing Kristen Allan, Manager of Hotel Procurement with M&IW. This is the follow-up interview in a two-part series on the importance of discovery and asking the right questions as part of your hotel sourcing process as we navigate through the pandemic and the safe return of in-person meetings and events. Kristen recently conducted a site visit for an upcoming in-person event and has great insight to share on things you need to consider as part of the RFP and contracting process.
Welcome, Kristen! Before we dive into the interview, tell our listeners a bit about yourself and your role at M&IW.
I joined Meetings & Incentives Worldwide in March of 2019 as Manager of Hotel Procurement. My career and background have been centered on hospitality and meeting planning for the past 21 years. I started in hotel and convention services, spanning into meeting planning and hotel sourcing, procurement, and contracting. I’ve held the role of both a buyer and operation leader in the third-party and event planning space. In my role, I support hotel sourcing and contracting services for both domestic and international meetings: RFPs, contract consulting, savings methodology, and process development.
What are stakeholders and planners staying focused on as they plan their 2022 meetings?
Attendee behavior! The confidence, comfort, perception of attendees. Recognizing that the attendees will continue to need reassurances. Then, planning ahead so that you meet your attendee’s safety expectations (regardless of the current state of the world around us) helps bring clarity to decision making.
When planners are thinking about content for their “Save the Dates” or the “Event Website,” attendees will still want to see cost, agenda, content, networking opportunities, however, event panners should also opt to layer in information and details that provide a visual of the in-person experience. Many people will need to ease back into face-to-face gatherings, especially larger events.
With this strong focus being put on attendee behavior. What is one of the most common questions you hear from our customers when talking through pre-planning or discovery?
The question I get most often and where we find most of the discussion is happening continues to be “What are clients doing with their meeting space, in terms of social or physical distancing, for 2022?”
No matter the shape and size of the event, the room set has always been top-of-mind when planning a meeting and contracting space. This included table sets, production, tech team, staging, etc. The difference for 2022 and beyond is that event planners and key stakeholders are hyper-focused on the meeting room set-up from the attendees’ point of view.
Consider attendee state of mind, based on dates of the meeting as well as where the meeting is being held:
- If you know this is the first live meeting and/or attendance at a larger meeting for most attendees, they may be a bit more sensitive to space between people, room to move around, easy access in and out of the room, and dining with others.
- What time of year is the meeting occurring?
- Traveling and meeting during typically cold and flu season may warrant a bit more space in your layout and careful planning of food and beverage service. Attendees may also expect to see enhanced measures for health and safety during this time of year, such as masks, accessible and visible hand sanitizer stations. Basically “low touch/less contact” experiences.
How important is it for a client to be able to visualize the space? Last summer I interviewed Alexander deHilster and he shared information about our EventVisualizer service and the ability to create 3D diagrams to virtually walk through the space. He said one of the key elements of professional event design has always been the consideration of the physical space.
Do you agree with that now, this is even more important?
Yes! It is also about exploring different options for our clients. The cliché that a picture is worth one thousand words certainly applies in this situation. Also, it helps give the client more confidence in the sourcing and contracting process with the following:
- First, consider the content for the meeting and what you are trying to achieve by bringing people together. Even with a physical site visit, it is helpful to have 3D renderings of the spaces with different room set options. You can’t underestimate the amount of space you will need.
- Second, specify square footage requirements when researching a venue or be more specific on table sets. For example, instead of just request classroom or crescent rounds, specify classroom two people for 6’ table or crescent rounds of five with stationed buffets.
- Third, set clear expectations for the venue versus allowing the venue to maximize their space based on number of attendees. More importantly, assure those expectations are outlined in your RFP and in your contract.
On terms of space, attendee expectations, and content, can you share an example of how this all works together?
Absolutely! I recently did a site inspection at the Loews Royal Pacific and Sapphire Falls hotels recently; as we were touring, I saw a u-shape set up for a board meeting for 25 people set in 1 per 6’ft. It was really shocking to see “live” how far apart the attendees would be from one another and the size of the room required to set this up.
This is traditionally a meeting where there is an active exchange amongst all the people at the table (not just a presenter or speaker) and content is shared via screen and projector that all attendees need to view. I sat in a few chairs and my mind starting racing with planning questions. How will those sitting furthest apart, speak to each other? How will the person sitting furthest from the screen – see the content (does a screen even work – do we need an alternate for a/v); In the end the hotel shared that the planner for this meeting wanted to do whatever it takes to keep the set in this large u-shape and thought through the “extras” to make the content and communication work together; microphones would be required for each attendee; there would be no screen/projector but each attendee would be required to have their laptop and the presentation would be shared via an online tool like Zoom or WebEx, which would require all attendees to have internet access and a boost in bandwidth for the meeting space – these were all additional expenses they planned ahead for, thinking through the set-up and a successful attendee experience.
It’s important to remember that the space you require may come at an added cost or limit availability. Be prepared to budget for potential room rental and additional staffing. Or, the possibility of flexing your destination or venue if the meeting space needs are firm.
This is great information and a lot for clients to consider. Any last thoughts?
It may seem like a very deep dive into logistics during the pre-planning phase. But, putting together a solid agenda is near impossible without considering how the attendees’ expectations may change your meeting. The great thing about this is customers are rethinking their meetings and there is so much conversation and creativity happening. It’s exciting to see live meetings coming back and I appreciate the chance to share some insights today.