Budget meetings Featured

8:21am EDT February 27, 2003
Hosting a meeting or event is never cheap. Facility rental, food, drinks and other services such as audio-visuals can dent your budget in a hurry.

But it is possible to have a successful meeting and stay within your budget if you know what to look for. Accreditation from the International Association of Conference Centers is one place to start.

"Accreditation from the IACC means that there are certain standards and amenities that will come with the meetings," says Jan Conrad, general manager of the Shisler Conference Center. "There will not be all kinds of additional costs that will be added on at the end of the meeting."

Another way to control your budget is to shop for a package deal.

"What you'll know when you come to the conference center is what your bill is going to be at the end," says Mitch Seltzer, general manager of the Professional Education and Conference Center. "A package deal may not be the cheapest option, but make sure you know what the real price is of other offers."

Compare what you are getting in the package deal with the itemized costs from other contracts. Make sure you include any on-site parking costs in the total amount per person to make your comparison.

Ask each potential location if it has any slow days that might enable you to get a better rate. Also, check what else is going on at the location, and if you will be in a dedicated room or a section of a room that's been subdivided, which may be distracting if other meetings are occurring on the other side of the dividers.

"Come in with a budget," says Harlan Diamond, president of Executive Caterers at Landerhaven. "Tell the people you are working with that you want to spend a certain amount per person or event. Allocate the funds and share that with the conference center. Then they can tell you whether you are being realistic or not."

Ask who you will be working with. And can anyone at the location assist you in planning? Will that person be there to solve problems the day of the event?

When considering price, don't expect to get a deal based on one event.

"The only way you'll probably get a deal is to guarantee them two-and-a-half events," says Kelly Moir, manager of meeting and event operation for Conferon. "If you can guarantee them at least two, then you'll have a better negotiation platform. This is also true with outside vendors or transport companies. If you can give them more than one piece of the pie, you will receive a more discounted cost."

To make sure you are getting the best deal for services such as audio-visual equipment, put out at least three bids, including one to the in-house AV department of the hotel or center.

"In your request, be as specific as you can," says Moir. "When you receive the bids, make sure you are doing an apples-to-apples comparison. Look for hidden fees like labor. Some companies try to charge for setup and teardown.

"Also, make sure your contract with the hotel or conference center has a clause that allows you to use outside vendors of your choice."

Staying within your budget is important, but keep the overall success of the event at the forefront.

"Be careful you don't make the decision of simply picking the cheapest place," says Charles Klass, vice president of marketing for Executive Caterers at Landerhaven. "You want to be sure the place you pick has the experience and capability to provide what you want. You don't want to be embarrassed and give a negative impression.

"Make sure you are comfortable with the way they are responding to your questions. If you are not comfortable, keep shopping around. You can't afford to be embarrassed." How to reach: Executive Caterers at Landerhaven, (440) 449-0700; Shisler Conference Center, (330) 287-1486; Professional Education and Conference Center, (330) 244-3300; Conferon, (330) 425-8333