Some events are held at the same venue year after year, and others, such as national association conferences, move to a different city each year. You may have great speakers, a great program and high attendance, but your chosen hotel or convention centre will always play a big role in the overall success of your event.

Once you (or your organizations volunteer leaders) have decided on a destination (or a short-list of possible destinations) and a time of year, your next step is to select the venue. It might seem like a simple task, but it can be an overwhelming process – one for which you should be well prepared.

Below is the basic process for venue selection.

Write your Request for Proposals (RFP). Your RFP is the document that defines what your perfect venue will be, and how you will determine which possible location comes closest to providing your association this ideal venue. As such it needs clear assessment criteria along with a scoring rubric for each, and the weighting of each criterion.

Your assessment criteria should be divided into two categories – mandatory criteria and evaluated criteria. Mandatory criteria are “must have” criteria – so an example might be “must have free Wi-Fi throughout the building”. If a proponent cannot provide free Wi-Fi that would be a deal-killer and prevent you from considering their venue and likely prevent them from proceeding with a proposal, thereby saving everyone a lot of time and effort. Evaluated criteria would include all items that you would like to see in a proposal, but are not required. An example of this could be that you would “prefer to have all meeting space on the same floor”. This is a preference, but not mandatory which means that you are still inviting venues who can’t offer same floor meeting space to submit a proposal.

Send out the RFP to all potential venues in the selected city (or area). You can pick and choose which venues should respond to your proposal, or you can send the RFP to the CVBs (Conventions & Visitors Bureau) in each city if the RFP is going out to multiple cities. This will save you time and research. Ask the CVB to collect all the proposals in their city and submit them to you as a package. Cvent Supplier Network offers a similar service for distributing RFPs and comparing proposals.

Review the proposals. How do you prepare to review these proposals as efficiently as possible? Create a spreadsheet that captures the assessment criteria you have provided in the RFP. Once you review the mandatory criteria, you can see which venues have made the first cut. After the first cut, start looking into more specific detail (evaluated criteria) for each venue.

If your group is organizing this event on a tight budget, the most relevant information might be: guest room rates, meeting space cost (is it complimentary with a minimum spend), food and beverage costs (minimum spend, as well as the banquet menu prices), and/or cost for wireless internet. If the group is more flexible with costs, you might be looking to compare: amenities (does it have a fitness centre, pool, restaurant, spa, etc.), guest room and meeting space quality (when was it last renovated), and/or location within the city (can your guests walk out of the hotel and find restaurants, attractions and shopping). You will also want to include available dates in your initial comparison.

Other things to consider: How is the layout of the proposed meeting space (will all your function space be on one floor, or will your delegates get lost trying to get from one breakout to the next)? How would the space work with your AV needs? What type of concession(s) is the hotel offering? Do gratuities and service charges apply to meeting room rentals? You might even want to compare the cost for a cup of coffee at one venue versus the next.

Keep in mind that sales managers at hotels have sales quotas to meet. The more guaranteed business they can put toward their monthly or annual quota, the better. They want your business and they might be willing to adjust their proposal based on your needs, or to beat out competing venues. Here are some examples of items that hotels might be willing to negotiate:

Check out our article: Negotiating a Hotel Contract for Your Signature Event or Conference for a more in depth look at how and what should be negotiated.

In the end, you want to be choosing the venue that will best accommodate your group and doing so in the most efficient and fair manner possible. Your delegates need to be happy with the guest room rate, the quality of the hotel and the flow and accessibility of the meeting space. The last thing you want is to have the venue be the difference between your delegates rating their experience as excellent versus good.

Cal Harrison, president of Beyond Referrals and author of The Consultant with Pink Hair, contributed to this article.