For most people who plan meetings and conferences for their organizations, that task is just one of many duties that make up their job description. Among folks such as administrative assistants, sales managers, marketing executives, and even heads of HR, there can be two or three times a year when they must coordinate a business event from start to finish — having to not only meet their firm's objectives for the meeting, but also do it at reasonable cost. This is quite an involved task, and it can be a source of stress and anxiety among many part-time meeting planners.
There is, however, one aspect of the meeting-planning process that full-time planners know makes their jobs easier — and one which is simply essential to the success of any event coordinated by a part-time planner. It's this: The conference sales and service people at the host property can act as full partners with planners in creating the most productive and most enjoyable meeting possible.
At Kiawah Island Golf Resort (KIGR), an oceanfront meetings property set just outside Charleston, SC the conference sales team is well versed in guiding part-time planners through the process of matching a meeting's needs to the correct spaces and formats so that all objectives are met. "First, we ask a planner about what type of meeting it will be," says Spencer Hux, director of northeast sales for KIGR. "Depending on if it's a high-level strategy session, employee training, a brainstorming session, a customer event, or something else, there will be a certain amount of time they'll spend in formal learning spaces, in informal meeting spaces, and in dining and leisure spaces. So we help planners decide whether The Sanctuary and its offerings are the best fit for the group, or if the villas and their related meeting spaces will fit the bill."
A 255-room luxury hotel with sweeping ocean views, The Sanctuary is ideal for upscale meetings that desire a secluded experience for groups ranging from 10 to 200 attendees. On the other hand, the 448 villas managed by KIGR, ranging from one to four bedrooms apiece, work perfectly for larger meetings such as continuing medical education programs and annual sales conferences. They are the lodging complement to the 11,000 square feet of meeting space at the East Beach Conference Center, plus the sizable meeting spaces at several of the golf clubhouses across the property.
If cost is a primary consideration, "we can help them figure out not just the proper lodging and meeting space to fit their budget, but also how to best use our dining and social amenities," Hux notes. For instance, "we can be very flexible with banquet menus; we have everything from high-end restaurants in The Sanctuary and in the clubhouses at Turtle Point and The Ocean Course, to Oyster Roasts and buffet-style possibilities at Mingo Point — and many options in between."
Another aspect of cost control — one that many part-time planners don't think about — is whether the meeting dates are even a little bit flexible. If so, KIGR can often improve on the deal when the original dates would have coincided with especially high occupancy at the property. "For meetings that do not involve a lot of the company's corporate executives, there's often enough flexibility shift the group a week later or a week earlier — or simply from a Thursday-Sunday pattern to a Sunday-Wednesday pattern — and bring the group substantial savings," says Hux.
One area where Hux finds the resort staff's collective expertise especially helpful to part-time planners is in the technological considerations for a meeting. "Generally, meetings run by part-time planners don't employ a lot of complex presentation or communication technology in the meeting rooms," he says. "But for the times when a planner has a meeting that needs more than basic projection and wireless internet in the space, we have J&S Audio Visual, an in-house firm that can handle even the most heavy-duty meetings technology needs. We would act as a liaison between J&S and the planner."
In short, "we try to learn as much as possible about each meeting group so that we can recommend specific options around the property that would work well for every element of that specific program," says Hux. "We do not simply throw out everything the resort has to offer, because that is when part-time planners get bogged down and stressed out — and it is totally unnecessary. We know the property best, and it is our responsibility to leverage that knowledge for the benefit of the group and the planner."
Once all of a meeting's needs and terms are established in writing, KIGR's conference sales team then turns over responsibility to an experienced conference services manager. "The CSM is a single point of contact for the planner with regard to every aspect of executing the meeting." says Hux, "He or she will assist with figuring out the space set-ups, the possible themes, the food and beverage details, the recreational activities, the transportation needs, and other logistics. All of the CSM's knowledge and each aspect of the meeting will put the planner's mind at ease."