Staying on budget is often a top priority in the small meetings industry, but knowing how to find the most affordable options is not always obvious. Though the internet is replete with ideas on how to get the most bang for your buck, we spoke with several planning experts to single out a few key points of advice.
Susan Flynn is the director of national accounts at the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau in Tennessee and has worked as a supplier to meeting professionals for over 30 years. As the vice president of sales at Visit Greenville in South Carolina, David Montgomery has spent more than 25 years as a marketing and hospitality professional. Amy Zientek serves as the director of sales at Visit Lubbock in Texas and has worked on the sales and services team for over 16 years.
Talk to the Convention and Visitors Bureau
As many planners know, the most valuable free resource at their disposal is a destination’s tourist organization, usually known as a convention and visitors bureau. This office serves as a gateway to the local community, telling planners where to go, who to call and what to do.
“We help with groups, whatever their need may be,” said Flynn. “Planners might come to us and say, ‘We want to do a fun run — who should we contact, what routes should we take, how do we set up a police block on certain roads — various things like that. A CVB is a one-stop call to everything in the area.”
The convention and visitors bureau will also be able to tell planners what local services are available for lower prices, in terms of transportation, venue rental, decoration and more.
Save on Transportation With Free Shuttles
When it comes to finding affordable transportation, a free shuttle service is a planner’s best friend.
Some cities, like Chattanooga, offer shuttle services throughout the day to major airports in surrounding cities, even if they are more than two hours away. As a result, attendees can take advantage of low-cost airline companies like Southwest or Spirit that do not always service regional airports.
Planners can also choose their meeting venues based on shuttle access points throughout the city. Because of limited space on shuttles, planners may have to factor in extra time for groups to board, but the savings are more than worth it.
For groups that require a more spacious mode of transportation, the convention and visitors bureau can help them locate the best service to suit their needs.
“Here in Chattanooga, there are a few bus drivers that own their own buses,” said Flynn. “So when they’re not working with schools, they might be available for event transportation, which would be much cheaper than a motorcoach.”
Take Advantage of Local Speakers
Instead of hiring a speaker from out of town and having to pay their travel expense, planners should ask the convention and visitors bureau about what local business owners or industry experts are available.
“If a group is interested in history, there might be a park ranger that could come to a meeting and talk about the region,” said Flynn.
Planners can also reach out to faculty from local universities. Zientek mentioned how one of the professors at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Barry McCool, gives regular talks on crisis management, drawing from the experience he gained after his astronaut son’s tragic death in the 2003 explosion of the space shuttle Columbia.