Getting Butts in Seats: What Does CUNA Look for in a Meeting Destination?

This entry was posted by Monday, 17 May, 2010
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From Rachel Best:

Rachel Best

Hi, I’m Rachel.  I’m a Meeting Manager at CUNA and I handle logistics like A/V and hotel rooms for some of our educational conferences.  I love my job because I love credit union people.

Additionally, meeting planning is the only field I found where my rampant color coding and slight OCD-tendencies seem to be good qualities rather than pesky roadblocks to getting work done.  Perhaps I could have been an accountant…but then I wouldn’t get to find these great places for credit union staff to learn and enjoy.

So, why was that one meeting held in San Diego?  Why is nothing ever scheduled for New York City; that seems like a fun place to visit!?  Well, here’s a snapshot of our logic when choosing cities for our schools and conferences.

1) Price/Value
Our first consideration is price or value of the hotel.  Since our attendees are employees of not-for-profits, it’s not terribly often that travel to an educational conference would be approved if the room rate was over $300.  I aim to find properties that are willing to negotiate rates around $180 to $200 a night or less.  We can’t base our selection on pure price alone.  Sure I could get you a great rate of $89 per night at a No-Tell Hotel, but what’s the condition of the room?  What about the meeting space?

Also, sometimes it’s worth it to go to a location even though it’s on the high end of our range.  For example, if we can get a Four Seasons Hotel (very, very nice – they polish your shoes every night if you want – for free!!!), for the rate of $220, that’s a GREAT deal, because you’ll be getting a one-of-a-kind experience that would usually go for over $400.  And we are guaranteed great service at this type of high-end property.

This is why it’s very difficult to go to New York City; it’s just plum expensive.  They get enough tourists and other for-profit organizations that they don’t need to lower their prices.  Except in the dead of winter…and even then it’s still pretty expensive.

Most of the time though, we are able to hold our meetings at great hotels for a decent rate.  Although in this economy…we’ve been able to get some really good deals as well.  Hotels are hurting for business and I don’t mind leveraging that fact in negotiations if it benefits our members.

2) Distance from Airport
Nobody wants to go through the hassle of flying for 3 hours, only to have to sit in a shuttle or cab for 45 minutes.  Much less pay for it – gee whiz!  So we try to select hotels and cities that are within a 25-minute drive between the airport and the hotel.  San Diego and Las Vegas work great for this.

3) Walking Distance to Attractions
For the same reasons as the above, who has the money to pay for taxis every night to go to dinner?  I look for hotels that are within walking distance of both fast-food and, sit-down dining, as well as bars and/night clubs.  Ideally, a tourist attraction (like the beach or a mall) would be within walking distance as well.

That’s  why we often pick hotels that are located in cities that have a thriving downtown area, and in cities where it’s safe for people to be walking about at night. Denver is awesome for this!

There are many other factors that go into site selection, but these are what I consider to be the most vital when it comes to locations for our educational conferences.

Rachel Best is the Meetings and Exhibits Manager for the Credit Union National Association.

7 Responses to “Getting Butts in Seats: What Does CUNA Look for in a Meeting Destination?”

  1. Thanks for sharing Rachel! Yep based on my experience, these are the three biggest considerations when selecting a location… I’d even say that the three considerations are listed in order of priority as well.

  2. Rachel, thanks for insight behind your selection process. Do you have a list of “10 Things Never to Forget When Planning a Meeting” that you might want to share with the audience. I am sure there are many meeting planners at the league and credit union level who would benefit from your expertise!

  3. That sounds like a great topic for another blog post!

  4. Rachel Best

    That is a great idea! Every meeting is a wee bit different as far as needs, but there are easily 10 things that are important to not forget about!

  5. Richard Dines

    Good advice from a seasoned pro!

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