events

Considerations for Destination Selection

Simon Birinder

January 28, 2021

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7 min read

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

To the seasoned event planner, the answer is simple: NEITHER - they were created side by side. But how does the wise event planner know this?

Because they understand that, in the same way events choose destinations and destinations define events, chickens and eggs cannot exist without each other.

And this knowledge serves them well when it comes to the all-important task of selecting the perfect destinations for their events. Getting it right doesn’t just have an impact on costs and logistics, it distinguishes the true professionals from the crowd.

Some of the key considerations when choosing that perfect destination include:

  • Knowing your target audience and your goals
  • Understanding experiential objectives
  • Finding a location that fits the event
  • Taking into account whose money is being spent
  • Logistics of traveling to and from the destination
  • Conducting site inspections

In this article, we’ll take a look at these points and others in more detail.

Know your target audience and your goals

Who are you designing this event for and why?

There are five important questions planners should be asking when considering a destination:

Source: Where You Meet Matters, Social Tables

Analysis of past events, including participant surveys, are a great way of gauging the key requirements for that optimal event destination.

“The bottom line is that you need to understand the purpose, and then find the right place that will deliver a memorable experience for guests.” – Vibe Agency

Experiential objectives

Great destinations offer more than just a functional venue. They should provide a backdrop for creating immersive experiences which drive an organizer’s strategic objectives. One reason for the ongoing success of the Cannes Yachting Festival is that the setting fits the brief perfectly: to exhibit luxury boats, in the sea, under clear blue skies in a place that screams glamor.

And experiences aren’t just about being outdoors in the sun.

According to London and Partners:

“93 per cent of international event planners surveyed said that a destination’s cultural offer was an important factor when choosing where to host meetings and events.”

This is hardly surprising given the growing appeal of bleisure trips. In short:          

“Meeting attendees are looking for more ways to mix business and leisure on the road.” – Associations Now

Finding the right fit

Putting the Wow! factor aside, destinations should fit the organizer’s brand and ethos as well as the image they wish to portray. So, if an event’s focus is tackling poverty, holding it in a 5-star hotel on a tropical island would subvert the core message. 

The choice of location also presents opportunities to boost regional economies as well as drive corporate social responsibility initiatives and outreach programs.

“This gives event planners a powerful marketing opportunity to play up the benefits of the location for the event and the benefits of the event for the location.” – Event Architecture

Money makes the world go round, but…

…whose money is it? 

Let’s consider two different types of destination events: corporate incentive travel and regional investment fora.

Corporate incentive travel

In this scenario, the attendee gets an all-expenses paid experience. Planners know their budgets and seek out destinations they can afford.

Regional investment fora

This is trickier. Attendees are paying for themselves and have to factor in participation fees as well as the cost of traveling to and from the destination. Therefore, planners have two important considerations:

  • Does the chosen destination meet the affordability criteria of participants?
  • Will paying attendees feel they have received value for their money?

A study by Cvent revealed that costs do impact the decision to attend events.

Source: Inside the Mind of Event Attendees, Cvent

When it comes to accommodation, there should be options to suit a variety of budgets. Destinations with quality Airbnb offerings can be particularly attractive.

“According to Airbnb, companies can save 49% when using Airbnb instead of a regular hotel.” - Forbes

Getting there and back

“With the event market so saturated nowadays, it only takes one too many layovers, or expensive flights to dampen people’s interests.” – Andres Fontao (source: TNW)

Traveling to and from a location should be as straightforward as possible.

A study by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events found that transportation, alongside safety, was the key deciding factor amongst meeting participants when considering whether to travel to a destination. 

Factors of importance to event attendees (Source: The Decision to Attend Study For Conventions & Exhibitions)

Ultimately, planners should know where attendees are coming from and prioritize destinations that are within easy reach of the majority.

Whilst good and affordable transport links add to a destination’s appeal, planners still face the laborious task of estimating flight costs for groups of people traveling to a single event location from multiple starting points.

Thankfully, help is at hand.

A helping hand with travel - how OK Roger can help

OK Roger's free Flight Cost Calculator has been designed to assist planners in working out the cost of flights for guests traveling from multiple locations to a sole destination.

Costs are automatically calculated based on the below traveler information:

  • Point of departure
  • Dates of inbound and outbound travel
  • Seating class

Best of all, the system produces three different itineraries based on: the cheapest, fastest and best flights, thus helping planners choose destinations that meet the constraints of their travel budgets.

The Flight Cost Calculator is offered free of charge as an add-on to OK Roger’s travel planning tool and planners can use it with their own Google Sheets. More information can be found here.

A picture tells a thousand words – but it’s never enough

Convention and visitor bureaus, destination marketing organizations and destination management companies can help planners identify viable locations for their events. However, it isn’t enough to simply rely on recommendations, photos or virtual brochures.

“Pictures can be extremely helpful, but there are many aspects that can only be evaluated in person.” – The Balance Small Business

The only way to be sure a location really suits your needs and that of your audience is to conduct a site inspection. 

Other essential criteria for destination selection

Additional factors to be considered are:

  • Time of year and weather – especially for outdoor events
  • Visa requirements
  • Inoculations
  • Health, safety and security
  • Local infrastructure
  • Accessibility features for disabled participants
  • Sustainability initiatives
  • Free high-speed Wi-Fi
  • Quality of local service providers

The brilliant team at Cvent have put together a practical guide for event planners which includes a chapter on picking the perfect destination.

Destination unknown

Ongoing travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic mean that most planners don’t even know when or where their next destination event will be. In response, the industry has stepped up to offer alternatives in the form of virtual meetings solutions.

Planners should look for platforms that offer:

  • Enhanced augmented reality solutions
  • Customizable green screen studios or webrooms
  • Personalized branding opportunities
  • Live interaction between presenters and participants
  • Digital registration of event attendees

Concluding remarks

Selecting the right destination can make or break an event the same way an event has the power to choose or reject a destination.

The key takeaway for planners is to seek out locations which add value to the overall event experience, taking into account affordability and ease of access. In some instances, the decision will be driven by business needs. In others, it’s about creating opportunities for attendees to experience new environments outside of event venues. Because the truth of the matter is that:

“Business and pleasure - nowadays, you need to appeal to both sides of the coin.” – Salzburg Convention Bureau

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