Challenge: Planning Site Unseen

Planning an event when the first time you’ll see your selected site is when you step through the doors to deliver the program? That’s enough to trigger panic and a cold sweat in planners. 

But it happens.  A lot.

It happened to Perfection Events a few months back.

Whether it’s based on budgetary constraints, time constraints, or some other requirements, creating and managing events without the benefit of a site visit is not an uncommon occurrence.  As an agency, we have a bit more flexibility than in-house planners may because we can usually make the business decision to invest our own time and money to conduct a site visit, in the best interest of the ultimate service we are delivering.  But, this may not be a viable option for In-house planners.

So What To Do When There is No Site Visit?

When you are planning without the benefit and experience of a site visit, you have to be laser sharp in the planning process and prepare for things that you cannot see.  It brings an added layer of creativity, and contingency planning, to the process and forces you to reach beyond normal bounds to get the job done.

Use Your Network

Of course, we all use our vast network every day to help us plan perfect events.  But without a site visit, this step becomes even more critical.  Take the time to think about who you know has been to your destination before and reach out to ask them if they have 15- 20 minutes to chat with you about their experience and perceptions.  Your social network plays a big role here too – ask the question on Facebook or Linkedin to find people who have first-hand knowledge of your destination and then gather their experiences.

Look Beyond the Floor Plans

When you do not have real-life experience walking through the space you will be using, it is imperative to attempt to mimic that experience through floor plans, photos, video, and conversation.  Take the time to gather as many photos of the space as you can, and match those up to the floor plans to create a clear picture in your head.  Talk to your hotel contacts to determine if there are any quirks to the space that don’t show up on a floor plan, or entire areas or levels that never even show up on a floor plan (yes, we’ve seen that happen!).

Get Video

So many venues have professional video or 360 tours already posted on their site, and these are a great start, but shouldn’t be your only source. We’ve been known to ask our hotel contacts to walk through a space while taking cell phone video to give us a feel for distance and timing so we can plan accordingly and make appropriate decisions about functions.

Understand the Transportation Situation

This is particularly important in larger resorts and city properties, where group transfers may not always take place from the front door.  During a site visit, we always walk the distance from a logical point to the transportation staging area to determine how many staff members are needed, how much signage is needed, where signage needs to go (and where it can’t go), what the timing is, etc.  Make sure to ask the transportation staging question during the planning process and then estimate high on the number of staff and signs needed so you can account for the unexpected.

Get In Stealth Mode

You can find almost anything on the Internet.  Schedule in some time to perform a stealth reconnaissance mission online – just remember to set a defined duration or end-time, otherwise you will get sucked into the black hole of the Internet only to emerge many hours later wondering what you have been doing for the last 6 hours! Review sites (like TripAdvisor), photo and video sources (like YouTube, Flickr, and Instagram) can give you a wealth of knowledge and some completely unexpected perspectives.  The important thing to remember on this mission is that you are just trying to familiarize yourself with the venue, and any possible shortcomings or pitfalls.  This grassroots or social conversation gives you the unique perspective of real people saying real things about the venue, without the marketing spin.  What you learn during this recon mission is supposed to help you paint a broader picture in your mind, not necessarily let opinions of others influence your decision.  Take what you need from the conversation and leave the rest alone.

Your Turn

Have you ever had to plan site unseen?  What best practices can you share?

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/