by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
An oldie but goldie …
Most of us in the industry know the site inspection joke about the meeting planner who, due to over-crowding in heaven, is given the chance to check out hell too. When she visits hell it’s party time – all designer bling, adult beverages, hot guys, cool sounds. Heaven, on the other hand, is fluffy clouds, choral singing, cups of tea and a pervading sense of infinite boredom. She opts for the former but when she returns there it’s all hellfire and brimstone, filthy rivers of excrement, eternal punishment. “What happened?” she cries “Yesterday it was a party paradise here!” “Yesterday was the site inspection”, says the devil, “today you’ve signed the contract”.
This joke works really well in theory but not so much in practice. In theory a speculative, hosted visit to a destination should yield up an amazing experience. Everything should be perfect, you should fall irrevocably in love with the destination and be left anticipating the programme delivery with giddy excitement. Yet, often, this is simply not the case. Site visits are often purgatorial, poorly co-ordinated endurance tests that run you ragged through a gauntlet of feature-slinging and leave you reeling, dazed and confused, by data overload with scant relevance to your programme or event.
In Dubai recently, at the excellent SITE Executive Summit, a panel of global incentive gurus offered some great advice on how to make your Site Inspection as heavenly as a Westin bed. Here are the take-aways:
1. Get in the right mindset
Rhonda Brewer of Maritz (SITE President 2015) expertly marshalled a heavy hitting panel that included Kurt Paben (Aimia), Jacque Goldy (MGM Resorts), Annamaria Ruffini (Eventsin&out) and Lynn Pavony (Four Seasons), all of whom agreed the starting point for a great site inspection was the right mindset, the simple realisation that it’s not about what you have but what the client needs. Lynn cautioned against “feature slinging” and she’s right. Despite the fact that many of us are sales and marketing professionals, we repeatedly fall into the trap of listing the endless features of our property with no consideration for relevance. “We have 48″ LED screens in our bedrooms” is a pointless feature whereas “We can create a customised greeting for your incentive qualifiers and broadcast it in-room on our 48″ LED screens” is a relevant benefit.
2. Get the objective
Again all the panelists agreed that understanding the objective of the event was crucial to the design of the site inspection. Attendees on site inspections for incentives won’t need to see endless auditoria and meeting space unless, of course, this space is needed for a Gala dinner or a group breakfast. Thus the entire site inspection journey should follow the logic of an incentive programme, highlighting high touch benefits, the unique ways to make a qualifier feel special, the range of creative in-room amenities etc. The site inspection for a meeting will follow a different itinerary, highlighting other benefits, focusing on entirely different property assets – event flow, innovative food and beverage presentations for energy breaks, AV assets and so on.
3. Get the data
To customise a site inspection it’s crucial to obtain as much data as possible about the programme’s history / past iterations and the personalities involved in it. Often there’s a rich reservoir of data available but , as Jacque Goldy of MGM Resorts stated, you’ve got to “pick up the phone and call” to get the full briefing. You need to ask questions like “what worked really well for this programme in previous locations?” and, crucially, “what didn’t work so well in the past?”. Ask, too, about the competition – “what other destinations / properties are being considered?” Have a check list that you go through for each visit.
Facebook and Linkedin can be a great source of data around the personalities involved in the visit so freely creep around their profiles and try to understand personal preferences. “If you see that the client is into health and fitness” said Kurt Paben of Aimia, “then put a copy of Fitness magazine in their guest room along with suggestions from your concierge about jogging circuits”.
4. Be creative
Kurt Paben of Aimia also emphasised the importance of creativity in the site inspection process. “It’s the single most effective way to make yourself stand out from the competition and to show real connection with the client” he stated. Lynn shared a wonderful story about John O’Sullivan (picture above) GM of Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita who donned a pink wig and turned up at the airport to personally meet an IT client whom, he’d heard, thought Four Seasons would be “too stuffy” for their programme. Even though his property may have lacked some of the space requirements of this IT client, John won the business because his gesture demonstrated a willingness to be disruptive, different, daring. He wasn’t afraid to colour outside of the lines and challenge perceptions.
5. Be collaborative
Rhonda then questioned the panelists on collaboration, particularly between CVBs, DMCs and properties. All unanimously agreed that it was not just desirable but essential. Annamaria Ruffini (Eventsin&out), whose business is both inbound and outbound, knows it from both the client and the DMC perspective and stated: “Collaboration on the total site inspection experience between all stakeholders is the sine qua non for success. The client is rarely looking at a hotel or a restaurant in isolation so all destination suppliers must combine to offer a seamless experience, choreographing menus, ensuring variation, avoiding duplication and so on”. Kurt shared a story in this regard how a cluster of suppliers working as a single unit won a programme against the odds simply because their collaborative attitude convinced the client they were the right choice.
Pádraic Gilligan and Patrick Delaney are Managing Partners at SoolNua and work with destinations, hotels and venues on their strategy and marketing for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events. Pádraic is a member of the Hospitality Partners Advisory Council (HPAC) at FICP and is a Trustee at the Site Foundation. Gilligan and Delaney were previously Vice Presidents at MCI and founders of Ovation Global DMC, MCI’s destination management division.