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CounterPoint: Virtual Site Selection: Is it enough?

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June 01, 2001
Joan L. Eisenstodt

© 2001 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction or transmission without written permission.

Site inspections, especially when one must view multiple hotels in one or two days, can be daunting. How can you ever see all that you have to see and experience all you must experience? Tools available today, such as MeetingMatrix, allow us to sit in the comfort of our offices to look more closely at a site. But do these tools provide the entire picture? How does one determine what makes a site viable for a particular meeting? Can a virtual tour take the place of physically inspecting a property?

Before you can conduct a site inspection, virtually or in person, here are the basics of determining what to do before even looking online or elsewhere for the site for your meeting.

Matching the Meeting and Audience to the Site (and Destination)
Before preparing an RFP (request for proposal), determine your meeting’s target audience: age range, gender mix, experience levels, ethnicity, nationality and your meeting profile. The meeting profile should include number of days, meeting format (number and types of sessions, timing for sessions, number and types of food and beverage events), and guest rooms needed.

Determine cities (destinations) that might work for your meeting. Consider air and ground transportation time and costs, availability of hotel rooms and meeting space, other events in a city during your group’s desired dates, taxes and other charges (such as energy surcharges) and other conditions particular to your meeting.
The meeting, its audience and the cost and other parameters will help you determine the best fit for a city and a facility.

RFP - Site Inspection
In the old days we relied on brochures to give us a picture of a facility if we couldn’t conduct a site inspection. We progressed to videos and CDs, which were not much more than moving brochures, still not highlighting what we, as meeting planners, needed to see.
Is a virtual site inspection enough? No. There is an advantage to viewing a facility on the Web or through various applications when one is in the process of narrowing the choices prior to conducting a site inspection, and later in the planning process for the meeting.

What’s missing?
Using our site inspection checklist, these items are examples of those we can’t (yet!) experience virtually, and those that I believe impact a site selection decision.
Ultimately, without this information, which is better-derived first-hand; the success of a meeting may be in jeopardy.
Travel: How long did it take to get to the facility from the airport? By what mode of transportation and at what time?
First... and second impressions: What was your first impression when you arrived at the facility? Did a doorperson greet you? If you drove was parking available? Was the parking area well lighted and secure? If valet parking was available, how was it handled on your arrival and departure? Is there activity at all hours of the day, or does the area shut down at 6 p.m., with little activity until 8 or 9 in the morning? What restaurants and shopping are within walking distance? Are there convenience stores? Is it safe to walk in the neighborhood?
Around the facility: What was the nature of any construction around the property? Was the neighborhood clean and well-maintained?
Inside: Until you look under the beds or in the tubs, or in the facility’s back-of-the-house, you won’t know how clean the facility is. I use my nose too – musty smells often mean mildew.
Meeting Space: Is meeting room lighting adjustable? Where are the controls? Which lights can be dimmed and which can’t? (Are the ones that can’t be dimmed right over where the screen would be for a presentation?) How is the room heated and cooled? How is the temperature controlled? Are the airwalls [movable dividing walls between meeting rooms] more like air than solid and soundproof? How many restrooms and phone banks are in proximity to the meeting space? What is the condition of the meeting furniture? How comfortable is the facility setting a room in a non-traditional way?
Service: Do employees smile at guests and each other? Are room service trays removed promptly? What is the employee cafeteria like? What did you observe about the relationship of the CSM [convention services manager] with the banquet set up staff? Is there a diversity of staff – in age, race, ethnicity and gender? What were your restaurant and room service experiences?
Accessibility (general and for persons with disabilities): All U.S. facilities should be in compliance with the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]. Is there a lower front desk counter for someone in a wheelchair? How did the guestrooms measure up for compliance? What was your experience in trying to access an elevator as a person with a disability – whether they are hearing or sight impaired or mobility impaired? Are all meeting rooms easily accessed? What about restrooms? Public phones?

Lobby and front desk: Is the location of the front desk evident upon entering the facility? How are check-in and check-out areas differentiated? Did the front desk clerk provide your key with little fanfare, or were the room number and your name announced to all within earshot? If the facility has an early departure or extended-stay fee, were they explained to you at check in?

Guest Accommodations
Types and locations/singles, doubles, suites, multi-occupancy rooms/appearance and cleanliness: All rooms are not alike – what differentiates them? What did the rooms look like? How clean was it under the beds? How easily could someone with a computer hook up to an outlet or phone line? How many rooms had outside windows? How many had interior windows only? Did the windows open? What was the degree of cleanliness of the bathrooms?
Safety and security: How well lighted were hallways? When you walked the floors at night, what methods of security did you see or experience? If you left your key in your room, how did the front desk handle a duplicate key? If outside doors or windows open, what was the evidence of security? What types of smoke and fire prevention protection and notification methods were in the rooms and in the hallways?

Nothing, for now, can top the experience of seeing, touching, smelling and experiencing a facility under consideration for a meeting. One day, we can sit in the comfort of our homes or offices and see things differently. For now, use available tools like MeetingMatrix to help you, but don’t forgo a site inspection in person.

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