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 Vicki Walsh, Senior Manager of Hotel Procurement. In her role, Vicki oversees the sourcing efforts primarily for healthcare clients and the team of hotel buyers aligned with this market.
Asking the Right Questions
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 Vicki Walsh 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 on the Events > Forward Podcast. Today I will be interview Vicki Walsh. If you recall, back in July of 2020, we did an episode called Before Your Source Your Next Event where I interviewed both Denise Farrell, Director of Procurement and Vicki the Senior Manager of Procurement to discuss the changes that event managers and meeting stakeholders should consider as part of their sourcing process. Well, that episode did so great that we decided to do a follow-up interview. This is the first of a two-part episode where I’ll first interview Vicki and then be interviewing Kristen Allen, Manager of Procurement in a couple of weeks.
Welcome, Vicki! Let’s talk about in-person meetings for 2021. I understand M&IW has contracted both full in-person and hybrid meetings for this year. Can you share some of your “aha” moments or steps taken as we navigate this process?
Absolutely! It’s an exciting time for us as we begin to have conversations about live events again. Of course, as we discussed before, the initial discovery process has changed since pre-pandemic as we are now asking more and different questions before determining the best destination and hotel venue. Some of these may include confirming if it will be a hybrid or a full in-person event? What is the current comfort level of attendees? We also ask about attendee demographics, is this a domestic audience, will there be international travelers, etc. This may make a difference from a travel standpoint. Are the attendees willing to fly or will the destination need to be within driving distance?
Along with this, we need to closely monitor local or regional restrictions based on the number of potential attendees and researching those destinations to ensure they can safely and legally accommodate a group of this size.
If it’s determined to be a hybrid event, then our questions focus on anticipated attendance for in-person versus virtual. Will there be an opt-out scenario? Has there been an informal survey to attendees to gauge their comfort level in attending an in-person event? We’ll also need to discuss contractual items such as attrition/cancellation flexibility and discuss the potential scenarios in case the environment changes as we approach the meeting dates to minimize potential risk. And, at a minimum, we want to determine the client’s level of risk they are comfortable with to move forward.
Some of these answers may be unknown at the time of discovery, but having these open and honest conversations will lead to a more comprehensive and transparent sourcing process. By doing this, we’ll receive answers to those key decision factors so the client can determine if they’re moving forward and in what format.
I know that M&IW has contracted some in-person events in the summer and fall of 2021. What steps did you take during the sourcing process to provide full transparency to the client to make the decision to move forward?
Yes! We’re thrilled to be sourcing live in-person events for 2021. First, the sourcing process has taken longer than it normally has in the past. This is because of some of the additional questions we added to our RFPs. It is also because of our expectation for the hotel to provide complete information as well as detailed floor plans and layout based on the flow of the program. In addition, not all hotels are fully staffed, and this could delay their response time.
Some of the additional questions and steps related to procurement include:
- How are they factoring physical distancing into the requested size of rooms?
- What other groups are in-house and where are they located?
- Can we receive full exclusivity of the meeting space?
- Can we minimize interactions with non-meeting attendees?
- What are the safety and sanitizing protocols at the hotel?
- Can the property provide potential outdoor space for meals and functions?
- Will they provide the required floor plans with their proposal response?
- Can they fully describe cancellation terms and sliding scale?
- Will they consider our request for aggressive attrition terms?
It’s so important that these items are addressed to fully understand what is happening over our proposed meeting dates as well as consider those important contract terms relating to cancellation and attrition.
Once responses are received, we take extra time to review and vet the space. We have additional conversations with each hotel that has provided the best overall options as far as pricing, contract terms, and the space proposed to include physical distancing. This all needs to happen before we have shared the short-listed options with our clients.
With the programs already contracted for 2021, can you share some of those success stories and what factors contributed to a positive outcome?
Yes! We have had some great success stories for both in-person and hybrid events taking place in 2021.
The first is a large national sales meeting in Orlando taking place in June. This destination was chosen due to Orlando’s recent reports of positive experiences in hosting large gatherings without incident. As we researched potential destinations earlier this year, Orlando came to the top of the list due to its high inventory of large properties. Plus, the testimonials and success stories from recent events – even those that were held late last year. With this short-term meeting, we were able to negotiate very favorable guest room rates, lenient cancellation, and attrition terms, and are taking advantage of a promotion from the local CVB.
The selected hotel won this business due to the amount of space they offered – which provides full physical distancing for the general session as well as breakouts. In addition, the client has exclusivity of an entire wing of the hotel giving this meeting that “bubble effect.”
An informal response to that question is that we liken a “bubble effect” to what took place with the NBA this summer wherein all players stayed within one hotel. In their case, they were able to leave the hotel; whereas our “bubble effect” is to have exclusivity to a full wing of the meeting space. There will be no other traffic in that space and it is just our client’s meeting and attendees. Which just lessens interactions with non-attendee guests.
Do you have another example of a success story? Are you working on any international programs?
Yes, we have an international program for a client that will take place in the fall of 2021. By finalizing the contract early in the year, with still some uncertainty on travel restrictions, we were able to negotiate a “no penalty” cancellation policy until 90 days out. In addition, the hotel has agreed to conditionally hold a week later in 2021 with comparable space in the case that the travel restrictions are not lifted or eased by the initial event dates. Again, the hotel agreed to hold until 90 days out from the contracted dates.
And, we were able to negotiate no deposits until 21 days prior to the program which is very unusual for an international contract.
These as well as a few other factors provided enough information to ease the concerns of risk and safety and created enough comfort and flexibility to make that important decision to move forward with a full in-person event.
What about hybrid events? Are you sourcing any of those types of programs for your clients?
In fact, we’ve been managing a hybrid series on a bi-monthly cadence since September 2020. Even with the restriction of 10 attendees at a time, we’ve been able to source and contract multiple destinations for this one-day training without incident. Again, the initial discovery conversation gave us the information that was needed to successfully source these meetings. Some of those included internet bandwidth requirements, size and set of the meeting rooms as well as pre-determined food/beverage requirements.
Decisions for all future hotel venues have been determined using this initial criterion which has allowed our client to consistently host their training as originally scheduled – just with their attendees scattered on a regional basis rather than all in one location.
These are just a few of the success stories with live and hybrid events for 2021. Our processes will continue to evolve as we learn more and more each day. But with consistent communication and collaboration with our clients and hotel partners, we are really making some strides to getting in-person meetings back on the books for all of us.
For our listeners, be sure to catch the second part of this episode when I interview Kristen Allan, Manager about 2022 is 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.