By Beth Buehler
Planning an association meeting isn’t much different than a corporate meeting, but the likelihood that people are traveling from throughout a particular region, state like Colorado or across the country or globe is highly likely. Also, most people attend association meetings to learn, take care of business regarding their particular industry issues, and network. Yet, attendees of today also want to enjoy the experience, which is important to registration numbers, so correctly matching the destination with an association meeting is critical.
Here are a few things to consider while going through the process of selecting a destination and venue for your association meeting.
How large is your group? That may immediately eliminate some destinations because of the number of people that can gather for expos, keynotes and banquets in one place. If it’s a large group, the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center in Aurora are equipped, whereas most mountain towns like Aspen and Vail and communities like Grand Junction and Boulder can host meetings that are on a smaller to medium scale. But don’t write off a town if a “walking conference” that is held between several nearby venues might work!
Does your group enjoy moving the location around? Several associations chose to move destination meetings around the state, possibly because meetings are regional in nature or attendees simply like exploring different communities for the annual conference each year. Destination Colorado holds its membership meetings and Front Range Trade Show at various locations in the Denver metropolitan area but changes up where its Customer Appreciation Event is offered annually. For other associations, it’s easier to stay in one city and venue from year-to-year and shake it up with unique new formats, entertainment, reception locations and partner hotels, which is the approach used by the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado Educational Conference & Trade Show.
Is there a destination that dovetails well with the purpose of your association or a particular meeting? Maybe there is something new to showcase that will draw people to register, like a new high-tech brewery that members of the Colorado Brewers Guild can tour while meeting. It’s also natural for this group to meet in towns where there are a fair number of breweries like Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver and Durango. It also could make sense to schedule a design- or fashion-related association meeting in tandem with the Denver Art Museum’s current exhibition “Dior: From Paris to the World” that examines 70-plus years of the house of Dior’s enduring legacy and features more than 200 couture dresses, as well as accessories, costume jewelry, photographs, drawings, runway videos and other archival material.
How are the locals and the place? Interacting with staff that work for a community’s destination marketing association, lodging properties, venues and attractions might give you a sense of if the destination is a fit for your association group. Are they professional and full of great ideas? Do they understand your niche? Can you see your group embracing the location and wanting to be there for the duration of the conference or meeting?
What are the transportation and parking options? How people will travel to your association meeting is a question that must be asked early on. Is it drivable in a reasonable amount of time or is there convenient access by airplane or train? Is there a cost for parking, and is parking nearby and safe? I’ve become a huge fan of flying into destinations that have trains and other inexpensive ways to get to local downtowns or other meeting locations. The A Line between Denver International Airport and Union Station downtown is a great example. Plus, there are all sorts of transportation companies in Colorado that can make this leg of planning and execution easy and cost-efficient.
What’s the budget? Of course the must-address question is always budget. What costs are association members willing to pay for lodging, registration, activities and extras? Some destinations are just more expensive than others, but everyone also has less busy times and open dates to fill so don’t write off a town or property just because you think pricing won’t work. Ask!
I’m sure there are other points to address, but this should get the wheels rolling when starting the process of choosing an association meeting destination.
Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado in all seasons.