1. When the economy weakened, companies cut back on meetings and teleconferenced instead. Is the meeting business getting stronger?

Many companies cut back on face-to-face meetings, but the trend is swinging back to them. Most businesses are 'relationship' businesses and these relationships cannot be enhanced by teleconferencing or even web-conferencing. People need to get out, shake hands and sit down with their business partners.

2. Why is it better to hire a meeting planner than to ask a major hotel to arrange everything?

In the hospitality industry, hotels specialize in accommodations and food and beverages outlets. Meeting planners let the hotels do what they do best, then handle the rest. They open up more services, vendors and ideas, coordinating with hotels, transportation companies, recreational providers, restaurants outside the hotel, decorators and entertainers. Meeting professionals also ensure these vendors have all the appropriate state and federal licenses as well as proper insurance. And they are better equipped and more experienced in negotiating contracts. Then the client can concentrate on the substance of the meeting.

3. How far in advance should one begin to plan?

That depends on the size and complexity of the meeting. Some large associations may book six to 10 years in advance to secure the hotel rooms and meeting or exhibit space they require. Smaller meetings can be booked months in advance. The more time allowed for research and planning, the better ability to match hotel and price to the specified meeting requirements.

4. How does a company budget for meetings? Is there a rule of thumb for costs per participant?

There is definitely no rule of thumb, but there is a process to determine the budget based on the purpose of the meeting, number of attendees, number of nights, etc. These are only a few of the questions that need to be answered before a budget can even be started. Once you have started a budget, you can reduce costs by booking a hotel in off-season, watching food and beverage costs as well as using other cost-saving methods.

5. Who typically comes to Sarasota for meetings?

The Sarasota area is fast becoming an area for boards, sales meetings and even sales incentive trips (winners of sales contests). With the addition of a Five-Star property and additional meeting space, the entire community, from restaurants to recreational venues, is gearing for the group business, no matter what type of group.

Terry Blumenstein is managing partner of Coordination Plus, LLC, in Sarasota, (941) 922-1948, www.coordinationplus.com

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