What DRIVES You Nuts About Ground Transporation?

We do a lot of CME and Association meetings, and unfortunately, due to the nature of their funding, the budgets for these types of meetings tend to be on the smaller side. We recently found ourselves in unfamiliar territory when we were onsite for a meeting in Los Angeles. For this particular meeting we were fshutterstock_93796168orced to go with a ground provider other than our preferred vendor due to a tight budget. Before the meeting, we contacted the provider on several occasions to reconfirm pickup times and to ensure that they had our credit card on file so that they would not ask our clients to remit payment. Unfortunately, it ended up being a total nightmare. One speaker arrived and could not locate his car. He immediately called our Program Manager for assistance in locating his vehicle and to express his frustration. Meanwhile, the Conference Manager was on the phone with the provider working to assist the driver in locating our doctor. After 20 minutes, our speaker decided to hop on the Super Shuttle, which turned out to be a big mistake! Knowing that this would only add to his frustration, and that the driver of his hired vehicle had already spotted him, we had to convince him to get off the Super Shuttle and into his sedan. After a number of apologies and reassurances that the rest of his trip would flow smoothly, we managed to get him into the sedan. Success – or so we thought.

As it turns out, our provider did not update their records accordingly and ended up asking the passenger to remit payment! Our Conference Manager raced out to the car upon its arrival to the hotel to intervene and sent the speaker inside for slide review. After having watched all of this unfold, we immediately called dispatch to reconfirm all arrivals and payment instructions. Forty-five minutes later, another speaker lands, and guess what? Their car is not there and we end up dealing with the same situation all over again! The same thing happened again and again. Four arrival transfers, and not a single one went smoothly. As it turned out, and unbeknownst to us, the provider that we used had only 1 sedan in its fleet. The driver was basically picking up from the airport, dropping off at the hotel and then racing back to the airport for the next pick up, running later and later every time. To add insult to injury, all the speakers talked about during the meeting was their awful experiences with the late, rude, and utterly confused driver. We ended up cancelling every departure transfer with that company in hopes of reducing speaker (and planner) frustrations, and instead put our speakers in cabs. In hindsight, I wish we would have thought to give Über a try!

After the meeting was over, we sat down to brainstorm alternative solutions in the event that we found ourselves in a similar situation in the future. We love our preferred provider, but even with negotiated discounts, their quotes still tend to come in considerably over budget. In our research prior to the Los Angeles nightmare, we had found numerous reviews for the provider that we used, all of which were considerably good. So what went wrong? Well, first, we were completely unaware that the company only had 1 sedan in its fleet and that they knowingly accepted the job with the full understanding that they would not be able to handle it. Secondly, they did not provide any sort of notification to the passengers or the planners. Maybe it’s just us, but we’ve grown very accustomed to such perks. We typically request a phone call to the onsite contact when the driver has made contact with the passenger at the airport, and then again when the driver is 10 minutes from the hotel. We’ve also gotten used to taking advantage of the notifications that our preferred vendor provides to our passengers. Arrival text messages welcoming them to the city and providing them with the name and phone number of their chauffeur greatly facilitate their arrivals.

So, what do we do when we find ourselves working with another tight budget? Obviously we will never consider using that company in Los Angeles again, but there will definitely be times when we have to go with the unknown. The lessons learned in Los Angeles provided us with a great brainstorming session on exactly what we should look for in our ground providers, and now you can learn from our mistakes. Key qualities of a good ground transportation company:

  • Reliability
  • Global reach
  • Professionalism
  • Upstanding fleet
  • Fleet that consists of more than 5 cars
  • Arrival/departure notifications
  • 24hr customer service/dispatch contact
  • Group billing/Delegate & HCP breakdowns
  • Mobile apps (always a plus!)
  • Discounted fees for association/federal government programs

What do you look for in a ground transportation provider? Do have a preferred vendor? Would you recommend them? How have your experiences been with them? What’s the worst thing that has happened to you onsite with regard to ground transportation?

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Venue Spotlight: Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa is known for its unprecedented natural beauty, but many people don’t think of Cape Town when planning a meeting. Cape Town is home to the Cape Town International Convention Center (CTICC), a world-class conference center whose popularity is growing exponentially throughout the meetings and events industry. Located inKruger2 the heart of the city, CTICC features state-of-the-art audio visual equipment and diverse banquet options. Conveniently located near a number of outstanding hotels, including the Westin Cape Town, the Southern Sun Cullinan, and the Southern Sun Waterfront, your attendees will appreciate the convenience as well as the beauty that CTICC and the surrounding area have to offer.

Aside from the illustrious convention center and the easily accessible airport, another attractive reason to hold your meeting in Cape Town is the variety of experiences your attendees will have the opportunity to indulge in.

Some of the most amazing culinary experiences in the world can be found in Cape Town. Just to give you an idea, here are a few suggestions:

La Colombe

Features French cuisine with an Asian twist and has a reputation of being the best restaurant in all of South Africa! While it is listed as fine dining, the ambiance lends itself to a casual business meeting as well as a romantic night out.

Codfather Seafood & Sushi

Located in Camps Bay, it is no wonder that this place is hailed as having amazingly fresh seafood. The chef prepares the dishes as simply as possible to pay proper homage to the freshness of the seafood.

Constantia Uitsig

Located in the original Cape Dutch Homestead, Constantia Uitsig serves up Mediterranean cuisine. The Chef at this restaurant believes overcomplicating dishes takes away from the natural taste and freshness of the food. Customers rave that the food is consistently superb!

When your attendees are not enjoying the many culinary treasures in Cape Town, be sure to suggest that they check out the many tours and unique sightseeing opportunities that the beautiful city has to offer:

Table Mountain:

As evidenced by its name, Table Mountain is a flat topped mountain and is featured in the flag of Cape Town.  Visitors can take a cable car to the top of the mountain to find more than 1500 species of plants and spectacular 360 degree views of the South African countryside. 

Shark Diving:

Diving with sharks is not for everyone, but for the adventurous traveler, South Africa is home to approximately 40 different species of sharks. Roughly eight companies in the region offer shark cage diving. For those interested in a less thrilling option, be sure to visit the Two Oceans Aquarium.

Winery Tours

Wine is big business in South Africa, so it’s not surprising that there are nearly 800 wineries located throughout the country! With so many options, it might be difficult to know where to start.

  • Situated within a comfortable distance from Cape Town, Stellenbosch would be appropriate for a lovely day trip. Stellenbosch is home to a number of top-rated wineries, many of which date back to the 17th century.
  • Vergelegenis Estate is possibly the oldest estate in South Africa. Since 1999, Vergelegen Estate and its wines have earned more than 200 awards.
  • Meerlust Estate has been long recognized for its world-class wines as well as for the beauty and tranquility of its grounds. Meerlust is renowned for its elegant, Bordeaux-style Rubicon blend, and its 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon won the bronze medal at the Decanter World Wine awards in 2012.
  • Rust en Vrede earned fame when it was purchased by rugby legend Jannie Engelbrecht. Rust en Vrede is known for its focus on Shiraz, Cabernet, and Merlot. In 2000, it was the first South African winery to be named in the Top 100 Wines of the World by US Wine magazine.

Robben Island

Robben Island was made famous for housing political prisoner Nelson Mandela. Once known as a place of isolation and banishment, the island has been reintroduced as a museum and remains a reminder of the price South Africans paid for their freedom.

Beaches

With over 1800 miles of coastline, there are plenty of beaches to choose from. The Eastern Cape and the Wild Coast offer some of the most secluded and spectacular beaches in South Africa. Additionally, the penguin colony at Boulders Beach is home to a growing colony of African Penguins. Wooden walkways allow visitors to view the penguins without getting too close (be careful, they bite!).

No matter what your interests are there are a number of things to do and experience in and around Cape Town, South Africa. Its unique setting allows for a truly memorable experience.  For more information on the numerous sightseeing and touring options within Cape Town and South Africa as a whole, please be sure to check out the Dragonfly South Africa website.

Have you ever been to Cape Town? Did you participate in any tours during your stay? Whether you did or didn’t, what were your overall most memorable experiences from your trip?

**Special thank you to Suzanne Nugent, Conference Assistant at Integress Meetings and Events for her significant contribution to this post.

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Dream a Little Theme

Picking a theme for your events can be just as important as your guests’ experience. Not only can a good theme help to keep your attendees engaged and excited to be in attendance, it can also keep them talking about the experience even after the event has ended. We recently held a corporate team-building event here in Atlanta. Ishutterstock_107378192-[Converted]n reviewing the meeting agenda it became clear that the content would be rich in corporate initiatives and training…a potential snooze-fest for a majority of attendees. So prior to initiating the planning process, we sat down to discuss the various ideas we had to build a theme that would keep everyone engaged, awake, and entertained. In the end, we agreed on an “In Concert” themed day. Badges were created to look like backstage passes, upbeat songs specific to each speaker’s topic were played as an intro, and a blues band was hired for an evening team-building activity. During the team-building event, attendees were broken out in to teams to create their own blues song that they then performed with the live band at the start of dinner. We even played up the theme by replacing boring center pieces with glow necklaces and other concert paraphernalia. In the end, everyone had a blast – the meeting was a huge success!

So how did we get there you ask?

Brainstorm, brainstorm, and then brainstorm some more.

First, it is important to know your audience. Tossing ideas back and forth with people can give you a clue as to how others may perceive your theme. Decide on an idea that is clear, easy to follow, and one that will be consistent throughout your event. Once you’ve decided on a good theme, you may be surprised by how easy your event will be to plan.

A few things to consider before putting your thinking cap on:

  • What’s your budget?
  • What’s the purpose of your event?  Is it a birthday party, anniversary party, wedding, corporate function, etc?
  • Who is your client? Are they party animals or are they serious professionals looking to relax?
  • Will your event be indoors or outdoors?
  • Where is your event being hosted? It might be fun to incorporate a local theme.
  • Consider your venue and what is has to offer. How does it inspire you?

The great thing about planning these days is that there are a number of resources you can utilize to assist with your brainstorming. One such resource is Pinterest. If you haven’t signed up for this social media gem then you may want to reconsider it. Search terms like “event themes” and “party themes” within the numerous boards and pins reveal inspiration from previous users’ events and unique ideas that will wow your attendees AND help you stay within your budget.

The number of themes out there is endless…it all depends on your imagination. Here are a few theme ideas to help get your creative juices flowing:

  • Rock ‘n Roll
  • Casino
  • Hollywood
  • Red Carpet Award Show
  • Sports
  • Mardi Gras
  • TV and Movies
  • Masquerade
  • Luau
  • Fire and Ice
  • Winter Wonderland
  • Decades

What could you incorporate into one of the themes above to make it unique? What was the most successful themed event you planned? What did you find to be the most challenging part of planning it?

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Will Paperless Meetings APPeal to Attendees?

There are plenty of apps out there that assist with all aspects of meeting and conference planning. For example, push apps that “push” information, such as venue maps, speaker lists, presentation titles, sponsors, and city information, directly to the event attendees.

There are a lot of attractive reasons to utilize these tools. For instance, printed material costs for meetings/conferences can be very high. Unfortunately, more often than not, attendees use these materials during the meeting/conference, but may leave them behind after the meeting concludes. Meeting apps also allow for dynamic and interactive meetings. Attendees and speakers can learn more about the other attendees and interact with them online, as well as in person. Apps are great options to offer in conjunction with event sponsorship, and best of all, apps allow you to Go Green!

Apps are interesting and exciting ways to disseminate information for your meeting. However, can we truly rely on our attendees to be technologically savvy enough to know how to download the app and how to navigate through the app to get the most out of it? For many attendees, who already have smart phones, the answer is probably yes. Further, know your audience! If you are doing a meeting or conference for a technology company, you can feel fairly certain that this application would be comfortably navigated. If you are doing a large, international pharmaceutical meeting, you may have some hiccups. Consider setting up a tutorial kiosk or preparing how-to flyers for those who may not be as familiar with using these types of applications.

The downside of using apps for meeting materials is that some people prefer having a physical program/book/itinerary to hold (just as some people refuse to purchase an eReader because they love holding an actual book). Therefore, consider printing up a few copies of your materials, just in case.

If you are considering using a meeting app, but don’t know where to start, try out a free app such as Bloodhound. This way you can test the user metrics without shelling out a ton of money. You can offer the paperless option and printed material option to your attendees, speakers, and sponsors, and measure how many use the online application versus the printed material. If it turns out to be a popular feature, you can consider using it for future meetings.

Have you ever used an app as an alternative to meeting materials? What kind of feedback did you get from your attendees?

**Special thanks to Suzanne Nugent, Conference Assistant at Integress, for her significant contribution to this post.

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Who says kids get to have all the fun?

According to GrownUpCamps.com there are over 800 camps geared toward American adults. Not all are your traditional summer camps where you roast marshmallows over a campfire as you sing Kumbaya and tell scary stories. Maybe you want to improve a skill, learn something new, or just take a break from reality. While some of these grown-up summer camps offer the traditional camp experience, others offer experiences that really out there (I mean REALLY OUT THERE). From the traditional camper experience, to running away with the circus, there is a summer camp out there for everyone. Check some of the really unique camps that we found:

Zombie Survival Course, New Jersey
Learn to protect your brains! This camp teaches you the skills that you need to survive a zombie apocalypse. It is fully equipped to train campers over a 1-3 day period in mixed martial arts, melee weapons, cross bows, and firearms, as well as on how to collect, prepare, and store emergency supplies.

Coney Island Sideshow School, New York
Work making you crazy? Need to step out of the box and really let loose?  What better way to let loose than running away with the circus? Campers learn how to charm a snake, swallow a sword, and even eat fire at the Coney Island Sideshow School.

Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp, Nationwide
You got a guitar when you were a kid and grew up wanting to be a rock star, but ended up crunching numbers in a cube instead. No worries, at Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy camp you will be grouped in to bands and perform original songs just like all the rock stars! If you’re lucky, you may even get to perform with an actual rock star! We have a similar camp here in Atlanta geared toward women. Ladies Rock Camp offers women the chance to find their inner rock star!

Would you ever consider going to a grown-up summer camp in lieu of your traditional vacation? If you did, would you prefer to go to learn something new, or are you looking to do something that’s really bizarre and out there?

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Bring Your Own F&B?

Have you ever held a meeting at a hotel where they let you bring in all of your own food and beverage (F&B)? It kind of seams unheard of…doesn’t it? Well, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) did just that at their latest Sustainable Agriculture Conference held at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center last November.


CFSA is a non-profit organization of more than 2,300 farmers, gardeners, consumers, and businesses in North and South Carolina. Their members are committed to sustainable agriculture and the development of locally-based, organic food systems. Naturally, when holding their annual conference, they want to stick to their values and serve the best locally grown, organic foods that their members have to offer. Allowing planners to bring their own F&B is a lot to ask from a hotel, as a good portion of a property’s revenues come from F&B. Taking a hit like that on a 1,200 attendee conference seems pretty unimaginable without some very open dialog.

CFSA spent 3 months negotiating with the hotel until they found a win-win situation for both parties. CFSA was allowed to bring in enough F&B to serve 3,700 buffet-style meals (2 lunches, a formal dinner, 3 breakfasts, and a reception) and another 1,600 in breaks. In return, CFSA agreed to pay a per-person service charge to the property for the preparation and serving of local ingredients that they brought in. The association worked on menus with the hotel’s chef over a 2 month period. In the end, 85-90% of the food originated from local sources.

A situation like this has the potential to be a logistical nightmare for the hotel. Typically, food deliveries come from a large national provider, and are made on a scheduled basis. In this case, there was a possibility of 70+ farmers driving to the delivery dock to drop off their crops. Luckily, 2 local distributors were available to make rounds to each farm, lowering the number of deliveries to just 28.

Once the foods were delivered, the packages were clearly labeled with the type of food they held and the name of the farm from which they came. This was important because the menus that were provided to the guests included information on where the ingredients came from. In the end, the attendees were pleased by the property’s above and beyond efforts to work with CFSA, and the chef truly enjoyed the “farm-to-fork” experience. Wins all around!

Hotels, would you consider letting a client do this in the future. If you would, do you think it would be as cut and dry as it was for the Sheraton Imperial Hotel?

Planners, do you think that supporting local farmers is important in the event planning industry? How difficult do you think it would be to negotiate with a property on this matter?

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On-site Transportation: It’s Über Easy!

Trying to get your one of your VIPs from point A to point B in a timely manner is one of those things that you really shouldn’t have to stress out about when you’re on site, and last-minute arrangements can sometimes be a nightmare.

Über, is an on-demand car service and transportation app available for both Android and iPhone platforms that allows you to arrange for a town car at any time. They make it sound so easy! All you have to do is download and install the app from your app store. Once installed, you login and pinpoint your location on the map provided, and with the click of a button, your service is scheduled. You or your VIP will receive text messages letting you know that they have received the request for pickup and that the car is on its way.

Although we haven’t used it ourselves, it sounds like it could be a great tool for avoiding impromptu on site transportation fiascos. Once you have created an account, Über will store your credit card information, and voila, you’ve got yourself a fancy, hassle-free means of providing your client with a sleek ride.

Über is currently operating in a number of cities in the US including New York, Seattle, Boston, and LA. They even operate in Paris – a GREAT fix for those not quite so familiar with a foreign city or their service providers. We’d love to see them in Atlanta; however, we definitely want to try them out next time we are in one of their service areas.

Have you ever used Über? How did you like it? Was it truly the stylish and hassle-free service that they claim to offer? Would you consider using Über or something similar while on site?

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