A site inspection requires not only thorough preparation, but also an open mind because colleagues, stakeholders and the venue partner can offer you valuable insights and brilliant ideas. Conference Matters has nine tips to explore the room successfully.
1. Go with someone else
Two people see more than one. So for a site inspection always take along a colleague and involve him/her in the decision. It should preferably be a team member with another function; an IT expert, your office manager or someone from personnel & organisation. They look with different eyes and discover things which you yourself might easily overlook.
2. Be prepared to be surprised
Don’t go immediately into operational mode on a site visit. Take charge by telling a lot about your event and organisation. In this way you give the representatives of the accommodation the opportunity to pool their thoughts with you and they might even surprise you with suggestions you did not think of yourself.
Tell them what kind of meeting it is going to be, what the substantive themes are, what type of people are coming, where they come from and what the objectives of the meeting or the congress are. Also give that information before you visit the venue. It gives them the opportunity during the site inspection to surprise you with ingenious ideas. If during the tour the site partner does not address your briefing, it says enough about his inability to think along with you.
Things become a lot clearer if you ask the following question: “Could you tell me about or show me something about this accommodation that I would not expect? Please feel free to surprise me.”
3. View the standard rooms
Sales staff of a hotel like to show you the best rooms and suites during a site inspection. But most of the congress participants will probably not sleep in the royal suite, so also ask particularly to view a standard room. Has that room a sea view? Also ask to have a look at a room without a sea view. What does it look like? Will you look out on a wall? Always have a quick look at the bathroom too. Sometimes the toothpaste splashes of the previous occupants are still on the mirror.
4. Unannounced visit
It might be interesting to go unannounced and view the intended venue. You then see how they work if you are not there. Just go there for a lunch or a cup of coffee. Are they friendly and motivated? How is the service? Are they flexible?
Can you order a gluten-free sandwich? It’s important to realise that you are not only hiring the accommodation, but the total experience.
5. Test via a video call
Internet access is nowadays considered as a necessity of life, so accommodation with poor Wi-Fi is a no go. You can best test Wi-Fi by video calling someone via Skype, FaceTime, Whatsapp or Appearln. Two-way video traffic needs a lot of data. Certainly if you move about a lot in front of the camera. If that goes well, you have sufficient bandwidth. In a hotel with a pleasant bustle, such a test is usually sufficient, but in a conference centre it is a different story. The Wi-Fi will there be super-fast in an empty hall. But if it is occupied by 600 participants, the internet speed goes suddenly at a snail’s pace slowing down in the bend because everybody is on the same band width. That is why it is important to test the Wi-Fi in an auditorium where another congress is happening. If that is not possible, ask about the capacity of the wireless network specifically and in detail and perhaps have this assessed by your own IT manager.
6. Arrange catering
Realise that catering is not only necessary (after all we have to eat and drink), but it also sets the mood. Discuss what is possible with the accommodation and also get advice. Will you have coffee breaks or will you put coffee pots on the table? Will there be a buffet or a seated dinner? Only sandwiches on offer or an elaborate meal for everybody? These are decisions which are often taken on the go, but don’t underestimate the effect of catering on how the meeting is experienced.
7. Expect disaster
All kinds of unexpected and unhoped-for things can happen during a congress. A big no-show, strikes, overbooking of the hotel, accidents and national disasters that bring public transport to a standstill come to mind. Or say someone becomes ill, where are the doctors or a local hospital? If you discuss this type of scenarios in advance with your venue, you know what to do in case of a disaster and who will organise this. And who pays for it. Also discuss what kind of situation might require an insurance to be taken out.
8. Communicate the process
Sometimes meeting planners are already being stalked on the same day by telephone calls and e-mails, when they have only just returned to the office. ‘Have you already taken a decision? Are there any more questions? Can I send you more information?’
You avoid this by saying something about your decision process during the site inspection. How long you think it might take and how you might visit some other accommodation or perhaps your management board will take the decision. If the sales people of the venue know this, they will sooner leave you in peace and will wait for your decision. If you still want something from them, figures or photographic material to show the (co-)decision-makers, preferably arrange this during the site inspection.
9. Read reviews
Admitted, review sites have relative value. This is because there are always people making it their hobby to complain about everything. In addition, there are internet trolls who just write anything because they feel safe and anonymous behind their laptop. That is why a hotel or other accommodation rarely has only positive reviews on the internet. But you can sometimes discover a common theme in the reviews, certainly if there are a lot of them. Are most of the people satisfied or not? If you have any questions when you read them you can always ask the accommodation for an explanation.
Encores for a successful site inspection
There might be also other events planned on the intended date. Ask particularly what kind of groups they are and think whether they match a little with your own group of participants. Will there be nuisance? Will the participants arrive at the same time? Does the routing and signposting cater sufficiently to the situation?
An auditorium which is too cold, or too hot, lack of oxygen, poor lighting ……. The climate in the spaces is a very important factor in the well-being of your guests. Pay extra attention to this and also let them explain how and to what extent you can control the climate. Also include smell in your list of environmental factors.
Some accommodation representatives, particularly managers of more luxurious or prestigious locations, can display a pride that borders on arrogance. This is often accompanied by a lack of flexibility. Such a person will than tell you how everything should take place. You must then seriously consider whether such accommodation would work for you.