ConventionSouth magazine is the leading resource for meeting planners who book all types of events, conventions, conferences and group travel in the south.
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⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ M A R C H 2 0 1 7 w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 18 ANNUAL CVB ISSUE auren Andrews, director of site selection and contract services for Atlanta-based Meeting Expectations, told the story of a client looking for a site to meet their unique needs for flying drones in a controlled, large environment. "In the fall of 2015, we hosted an event at the home of the Atlanta Falcons, the Georgia Dome. This was the first event of its kind, in that it was an event centered around the growing hobby and market of drone technology and drone racing," said Andrews. "We chose the Georgia Dome because it offered us a venue that the drone community had never seen before, with more than enough room for the drones to zip around. Since it was a first-time event, we wanted a venue that would get everyone's attention and the Georgia Dome did just that." Evaluating Sites Based On Planners'Needs It's not just out-of-the-ordinary events that can benefit from a site selection specialist. The field is growing as planners discover the many reasons to seek site selection help. "My main responsibilities are to research all possible venue options [hotels and/or convention centers], evaluate all specifics based on a client's needs, present the top options to the client for their consideration, organize the site visits, negotiate the venue contract, evaluate the room block weekly, beginning 12 weeks out, to ensure there is no attrition or add overflow (if needed) and provide on-site support," said Andrews. She added that working with destination CVBs is another vital part of the site selection process. "We work hand in hand with site selection specialists," said Atlanta CVB Director of Sales Justin Page, "serving as the experts on our destination. When they source Atlanta as a destination, the CVB works to uncover the end user's specific needs, offers qualified recommendations based on the needs of the planner and assists in site visits. We work with them through the entire sales process and continue to assist from the time the group checks in until after their departure." Easing The Planner's Burden With all of the major responsibilities meeting planners have on their shoulders, working with a site selection specialist can ease the burden of spending major research time looking for the perfect destination to fit the event and attendees' needs. "As we start the RFP process, our team sits down with the meeting planner to learn more about the program. We discuss the event's hot buttons, goals, logistics, budget, ideal location and other key factors to find the best options," said Andrews. "Once we receive proposals, I map out all options and present them to the planner. We then narrow down to the top three to five venues to present to upper management or the board. Then I recommend that the planner attend a site visit of the top options. After the decision has been made on the final venue to host, I send my tracked changes to the planner to review my comments and meeting space to ensure all is blocked accordingly before finalizing with the hotel." Finding The Best Site Last year, Andrews helped find the site for the Arby's Worldwide Franchise Convention. Held Sept. 11 – 14, 2016, the event involved 1,230 attendees, who gathered to "share [in] the company vision and strategy with the franchise system while getting feedback to guide future initiatives," Andrews said. She helped her client choose the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort as a site that could showcase the fun events scheduled. "The event was a major success due to the program agenda and content shared, as well as the venue itself. The sleeping room block exceeded the contracted block and reached a record high the client had not seen since 2006," she said. "Arby's hosted a dinner and concert by Scotty McCreery at Epcot World Showcase pavilion. Yacht Rock performed and the attendees were able to enjoy the fireworks show steps from our private event space. Many attendees extended their stays to enjoy the theme parks and resort accommodations." LaToya Southern, association manager for meetings and events for Arby's Restaurant Group, outlined the benefits of using a site selection specialist firm from her perspective. "In the events industry, it's very important to utilize vendors to manage certain areas of meetings, conferences and events," she said. "We chose to use a site selection specialist firm because their expertise is crucial when L Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort was chosen for an Arby's franchise convention, with the help of a site selection specialist.