Selecting a unique venue

By Rachel Naud

Busting out of the “bored” room and into a unique, invigorating and inspiring space says a lot about the company and its delegates.

“Selecting a unique venue tells attendees that the message being relayed is important and you want it to register,” says Jonathan Fruitman, director of marketing and venue guru for EventSource. “It communicates that the meeting isn’t a waste of the delegates time, or being held simply because ‘it’s that time of year’, but rather speaks volumes about the company hosting it, in essence saying ‘we’re different, we’re fun and we’re dynamic.’”

In addition, if the meeting is out of town, choosing an unique venue gives delegates a chance to see the sites they normally wouldn’t see if cooped up in a run-of-the-mill boardroom or convention centre.

Typically when delegates register for a city conference, they are extremely interested in what the city itself has to offer.  All too often upon arrival at the conference hotel, the agenda commences, leaving little time for networking or taking in anything beyond the hotel.

“The conference / meeting planner is wise to consider off-site venues that will allow delegates to experience the city first-hand,” says Grace Vale, principal for Venues Meeting & Events in Ottawa. “An ideal off-site venue should be within walking distance of the host hotel, or if transportation is required, no more than a 10-minute drive. To keep costs under control, consider renting the city buses or, for that matter, school buses. Once delegates are at the unique venue, the space creates interesting conversations amongst delegates, and networking over a common reference point is seamless.”

And, of course, couple new conversations with new and exciting spaces will equal inspiration.

“They are inspiring and a refreshing change from the norm,” says Sarah Lowis, president of Vancouver-based Sea to Sky Meeting Management Inc. “They also provide an opportunity to show off what a destination has to offer and to celebrate its culture and uniqueness. For example, in Vancouver, for 300 to 500 people, a reception or dinner at The Museum of Anthropology gives attendees a stunning view of the city  and a taste of the West Coast (mountains and oceans), all while celebrating the First Nations culture in an architecturally inspiring building.”

Still, Lowis cautions, inspiration can come at a price – something meeting planners have to take into consideration.

For example, when planning a meeting at a traditional venue – hotel or convention centre – many factors, such as onsite caterers, audio-visual equipment, rental of tables, chairs and linens, are often included as an all-inclusive package, whereas for a meeting held at a unique venue, these items may be a la carte.

Still, despite some additional costs, when executed effectively and efficiently, a unique venue can garner a large return on investment.

“If the unique venue is selected for a social event and the food, entertainment and logistics are flawless, then that social event becomes the talk of the entire convention or three-day sales meeting,” offers Lowis. “If the unique venue is selected for learning or creating a business or sales plan where the attendees have an established set of goals to achieve, then the unique venue provides opportunities for rest and relaxation, inspiration and a setting away from today’s many technological distractions.”

Vale says she once selected a restaurant, Lago Bar and Grill on Dow’s Lake, for a software company, where she created and produced an Olympic Team Building event for 130 delegates followed by a sit-down dinner.

“We had transportation take the scenic route from the hotel in order for guests to enjoy the city, and made sure the venue was large enough to accommodate both the games and the meal, giving everyone a lovely view of Dow’s Lake,” explains Vale. “And during dinner, we ran an Olympic Trivia contest. Great fun was had by all.”

Lowis adds meeting and events she’s planned in Vancouver at venues such as the Vancouver Aquarium, Cecil Green Park House at UBC and Grouse Mountain have been hits for their originality, inspiration and charm.

But you don’t have to have a picturesque mountain backdrop to have a successful event. The key to picking the perfect unique venue lies in knowing your client.

“Impress your client by choosing a venue that reflects their company’s corporate culture,” says Fruitman. “Some examples include activity-based venues such as bowling alleys and indoor go-karts, historical landmarks, art galleries and lounges – your client will be blown away by all the options out there.”

And chances are, if clients are blown away, the event will be memorable and so will your services as a meeting planner.

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