ConventionSouth

MAY 2018

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 Y 2 0 1 8 w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 14 SMERF MEETINGS a tremendous amount." Habitat for Humanity builds in more than 330 countries and, as such, it welcomes visitors from all over the world to its conferences. The visa issues and travel restrictions alone make its events uniquely challenging. "Many of our affiliates are from Span- ish-speaking continents, so we have to trans- late our content to make sure everyone feels comfortable here and is able to maneuver here and has a really good experience," Brooks said. "Even the signs in the meeting spaces have to be translated." The group has found an ally in the Hyatt Regency Atlanta and its understanding of the international requirements. "They help us research dietary needs and cultural aspects of food," Brooks said. "They make sure I know which staff members have the language capability to assist me in case of emergency, which is a phenomenal touch. They make sure we have enough staff to help our people get where they need to go. They help us maintain diversity in our service." Like Brooks, Kurt Kjellstrom of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, also deals in international events with thousands of attendees. As the senior event manager, he plans a dozen events annually, with the largest being a citywide con- ference that hosted 12,000 people per day for seven days during its most recent run. The key to successful events, Kjellstrom said, is extensive planning. A 20-year veteran of the event industry, he very rarely experiences prob- lems and he credits strategic planning. "We consider the access to our facilities and how easy it is for our attendees to enter and exit the event," he said. "Things like parking, traffic and construction. We choose properties that can accommodate our staff as well as the attendees and we look for services available near the hotels so our people can grab quick meals and get back to the sessions." "In this day and age, we plan for extra security to keep our events safe and secure," he said. "When you don't plan, you'll have mistakes and issues." Another consideration for SMERF groups is the availability of entertainment offerings nearby, said Terry Schmidt, reunion planner for the USS Henry B. Wilson, DDG-7. "Finding the right entertainment poses a challenge for our group because there's a lot of diversity within the group," he said. "The venues are a big con- sideration because we want to find something that will please everyone, including the spouses and significant others." His group also seeks destinations that include shoulder dates in the offerings, allowing group members to arrive a couple of days early or stay a couple of days late and still enjoy the group rate for the property. Finally, he said, his military group prioritizes cost and bang for the buck, which usually includes having breakfast incorporated into the cost of the room. Also, "a lot of times when you book a certain number of rooms, the hotel will provide a com- plimentary room," he said. "Our group raffles the free room so that each of our attendees has a chance to win the free hotel stay." Because budget is almost always a consid- eration for SMERF groups, Durben said she works to provide cost-effective options for groups that visit Garrett County. She often recommends hosting casual events at state parks as a way to provide an informal, casual event without spending a lot of money. DMOs are a vital resource for any group planning a SMERF event. "What's great about the CVB or DMO is that we're the launching point for groups," she said. "We can help them get started. We can point them toward opportunities for team-building, such as zip-lining and ropes courses, that they may not have considered. We can help them find unique ways to host their groups." n Planning Tips from the Pros The following suggestions will help you ace your next SMERF event, even if it's your first time planning one. 1. Begin with the Convention and Visitors Bureau or Destination Marketing Organi- zation in the area you're considering, said Jen Durben, groups director for the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce: "We act as a connector to point groups to our members that offer the services they are looking for because they are the experts." 2. Determine whether your group's travel dates are flexible or rigid, Durben said. In some cases, groups that have the flexibility to travel during off-peak seasons will save significant amounts of money and avoid peak-season crowds. 3. Consider how your attendees will be travel- ing to the event, said Terry Schmidt, reunion planer for the USS Henry B. Wilson, DDG-7. Verify the destination's proximity to the air- port if attendees will be traveling by airplane. Free parking at the hotel is a helpful option. 4. Inquire about shoulder dates and whether your contract will provide the same group rate for days prior to and following the event, Schmidt said. 5. "Decide whether your group will benefit from a package deal that includes meals, meeting room fees and activities," said Lisa Ratliff, di- rector of sales for Wisp Resort in Maryland. n Military Reunion at Great Lakes Naval Base

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