How to stretch event budgets

Meeting planners consider a lot of factors when crafting the perfect experience for their attendees. At the top of the list is location, location, location!

When looking for that perfect spot to host an event, meeting planners may want to expand their search off the beaten path and explore beyond the usual suspects. The latest Smart Meetings webinar explored Virginia Beach, and was led by Sally Noona, director of convention sales and marketing for Virginia Beach CVB, and Carey Goryl, CEO of the Association and Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAPPR), who shared tips from their experience planning an event in a second- or third-tier city.

Watch the entire virtual FAM here.

Beyond First-tiered Cities

Noona and Goryl have known each other for years, but recently reconnected when the pandemic altered AAPPR’s plans. “We’re finding fewer hotels in top-tier cities that really could accommodate us,” Goryl said. The size constraints were limiting how many exhibits and attendees she could accommodate. That was why she started looking at convention centers and alternative destinations. Her search landed her in Virginia Beach, where her longtime friend Noona had some creative ideas for an ocean-adjacent gathering.

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“Our members are excited!” she says, “They love this idea of being at the beach, it’s not the typical beach city. It brings both what they’re looking for, plus some curiosity.”

Noona boasted, “Your second-tier cities try harder to get to know the group, figure out the demographics, what makes them tic.”

It’s About the Experience

As a CEO, attendee experience is paramount to Goryl. When doing a site visit, she travels incognito  to learn how an average traveler experience unfolds. “I know during a site visit I’m going to be treated well. But I want to know what the average hotel room looks like, what the experience at the airports looks like because that is what my members are likely going to experience.”

Noona suggested looking for signature experiences that bring only-in-the destination smells (in this case ocean breezes), tastes (ever try she-crab soup) and sights (the pier and King Neptune statue at Virginia Beach Boardwalk) so attendees to immerse themselves in the environment. “When you’re in a space where you feel alive, you also learn,” Noona says.

Get the Most Out of Your Investment

Budgets are the bottom line in for many meeting planners. Keeping in mind how to save or re-invest your money into your event is a cornerstone in the event space industry.

“Always ask to talk to the chef and tell them what your budget is,” Noon suggests. If the chef can double up on whatever they are already preparing for another group in-house, it could save some money without sacrificing quality.

“It isn’t always about the rate,” Noona said. Sometimes partnering can result in making money by creating sponsorship opportunities.

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Goryl agreed that the choice of a second- and third-tier city ultimately benefits her company and allows for re-investment in other areas of the event experience, “When the costs are a lot more competitive, we get to reinvest that into the event. Making this an awesome event is what makes people come the next year and the year after that.”

Ultimately, by diversifying connections beyond the big cities, meeting professionals can forge profitable bonds in exciting new places. “Collaboration is the new currency,” Goryl said. “Virginia Beach is truly a partner I care about. and I know they care about mine. We’re both going to be successful as a result.”