Category Archives: In Our Opinion

Intra-office musings on whatever strikes our fancy.

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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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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Best of AtlAntA

Being that we are an Atlanta-based company, we like to try to bring as many meetings home as we possibly can. However, when trying to convince clients to bring their event to Atlanta, one question that typically arises is, ”What is so special about Atlanta?” Bringing your meeting or event to Atlanta will give attendees a true taste of southern charm! From chicken and waffles to potlikkers and sweet potato pie (complete with a back rub if you visit Mary Mac’s Tea Room), Atlanta offers some of the best in southern cuisine. Atlanta is also home to the World of Coca-Cola, the Braves, and the Georgia Aquarium (the world’s largest!), not to mention 20 hotels and 13 restaurants that have been awarded with a 4 or 5 Diamond status by the American Automobile Association (AAA).

According to AAA, Atlanta is one of the cities with the nation’s highest number of 5 Diamond lodgings. In 2011, less than 1% of the 59,000 AAA approved lodgings and restaurants held this honor (Source: http://newsroom.aaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/5D_Facts_2011.pdf). Among those recently honored are the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta (5 Diamonds), the Grand Hyatt Atlanta (4 Diamonds), the St. Regis Atlanta Hotel and Residences (5 Diamonds), the W Atlanta Downtown (4 Diamonds), the Omni Hotel at CNN Center (4 Diamonds), and the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead (which has maintained its 5 Diamonds for over 25 years). Each of these hotels is not only beautiful, but also offers great meeting spaces and excellent service.

AAA also recently honored 13 Atlanta restaurants with 4 Diamonds each. The Atlanta Grill, Nikolai’s Roof, Canoe, and Restaurant Eugene are just a few of the Atlanta honorees on the list. The exquisite cuisine and private dining options make these establishments great choices for off-site dinners or receptions.

We don’t mean to sound partial, but Atlanta really is a great location for special events, meetings and vacations. We just thought you should know!

For a complete list of  Atlanta honorees please visit http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/news/2012/02/07/20-hotels-13-restaurants-among-aaas.html

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A Faster Boarding Method

You’re at the airport waiting to board your plane. You look at your ticket and realize that you’re in zone 4, which means you have to wait until business class travelers, those with small children, those who need extra time boarding and those in the other zones board before  you can finally get to your seat. Once your zone is called, you stand in a long line on the jet way, a line made long by the large number of people who boarded before you who are now standing in the aisle of the plane taking off their jackets. By the time you get to your seat there is hardly any overhead space left, leaving you annoyed that you decided to carry-on instead of checking your luggage. Also, don’t forget about the obligatory ‘leap over the aisle and middle seat’ so you can squeeze next to the window. Why does boarding a plane have to be such a time consuming, difficult process?  Dr. Jason Steffen, a particle physicist at Fermilab had the same question, and has found a solution that dramatically decreases the amount of time it takes to board a plane.

While many studies have been conducted in an attempt to reduce the amount of time it takes to board a plane, Steffen’s is the first real-world tested theory that has been demonstrated to cut boarding time in half!

While most airlines today board using the ‘back to front’ method, Dr Steffen’s method goes a little something like this: First to board are passengers with window seats in alternating rows on the right side of the plane. Then, the same thing is done for the left side of the plane, alternating rows and window seats only.  This pattern is then continued for the middle and aisle seats until everyone is on board. The video below will probably make it a bit clearer…

Using the Steffen method, passengers are able to put their luggage in the overhead compartments without holding up everyone else. Also, no one has to move from their seat in order to let you get to yours (unless they ‘accidentally’ sit in the wrong seat), and you don’t have to wait in a long line for the crowded aisles to clear, making for a much faster and pleasant way to start your travels.

Steffen’s findings were first published in 2008. Here we are almost 5 years later, and the majority of airlines are still using the traditional boarding method? Why is it that airlines haven’t adopted this strategy? Do you think that this real-world test will open some eyes?

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Food Truck Comeback

Food trucks aren’t just for New York City and the west coast any more. Being based in Atlanta, we have loved seeing food trucks pop up particularly in Midtown. The critics agree the most famous is Yumbii for their Korean tacos, but you can also find south of the border flavors at

The Pickle, photo courtesy of http://www.ultimateculinary.com

Pickle, and don’t forget dessert from Yum Yum Cupcakes. This revolution is mostly with thanks to the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, who are trying to popularize and re-brand food trucks in the metro area.

Even in slightly smaller cities like Fort Worth, Texas, food trucks continue to rise in popularity with choices ranging beyond your standard taco truck to Holy Smokes BBQ (where they smoke all their meat onsite and provide homemade pickles with every order), and Il Cane Rosso, where you can get authentic Neopolitan pizzas.

Perhaps some of the most exciting things about food trucks aren’t just the lower prices and the ability to eat on the go from somewhere other than a drive-through. It’s about community and authenticity.

Neopolitan pizza from Il Cane Rosso

Restaurants are expensive to open and run, but food trucks provide a happy go-between for innovative cooks with delicacies to share. If you’re a germ-a-phobe, don’t despair. These new food trucks aren’t the Mexican taco stands you may associate with mobile food. Take a chance on entrepreneurship (and go off of recommendations).

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Creativity Creates Creativity

Financial and Insurance Meetings online posted an article claiming creative spaces induce create meetings. In fact, the article states, “For Chicago-based Eva Niewiadomski, owner of a quirky and colorful event space called Catalyst Ranch, the key to creativity is an engaging environment. ‘It’s incredibly important to how individuals feel, to the caliber of work they create, and to the outcome of meetings,’ she says.”

We couldn’t agree more, even though so often budgets and regulations prohibit the exploration of creative venues. Three places we’ve previously reviewed as beyond unique are listed below.

East Coast: Old Edwards Inn
West Coast: Cavallo Point
Somewhere In Between: Blackberry Farm

Other venues we’ve come across in the last year are the Chicago Illuminating Company, exuding a modern, urban loft feel for your large one-night event, and the Inn at Lake Granbury for a retreat option with tons of amenities that can host a small to medium sized meeting.

We love a reliable Westin, but sometimes you want to break out of the box and feel a sense of place beyond a brand.

Google's Brainstorming Room

Even within office spaces, we love to see companies who make coming to work fun. Google’s Brainstorming Room is a great example of using space design to foster personal creativity, as is Gap’s Rubik’s Cube Room.

Have you had the opportunity to take a meeting or event somewhere particularly unique this year?

Gap's Rubik's Cube Room

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To Telecommute or Not

With gas prices constantly rising, traffic making the roads more and more congested, and technology catching up in strides, telecommuting has become more popular the last five years or so.

Our company has blessed its employees with flexibility but are all things equal when telecommuting? We’ve put together a pros/cons list from those of us who do telecommute.

Pros

  • Flexibility: Whether it’s throwing in a load of laundry while you’re waiting for an email, or being able to exercise since you’re not spending that time commuting, everyone agrees that telecommuting’s biggest asset is the flexibility.
  • Financial: Have you seen the gas prices lately? And it’s not just gas; it’s the wear and tear on your car, the not going out to eat with friends every day, and the reduced need for so many suits and skirts. Your wallet, no doubt, benefits from the telecommute.
  • Going Green: Commuting is talked up as one of the top contributors to air pollution, as more and more people join the work force and spend hours on the road. If you’ve ever rolled down your window while sitting in traffic on the highway, you can’t help but agree. There’s a reason people go camping–it’s the fresh air.
  • Productivity: Most telecommuters would agree that without the constant distractions of a traditional office environment, they are actually MORE productive when left to their own devices, and find that they accomplish more in shorter time frames.
  • Peace of Mind: Whether it’s to be at home when your kids get off the bus, or just the relief of not wasting two hours a day in traffic, your day is likely a little calmer than the average commuter.

Cons

  • Flexibility: If you are a routine-type person, the flexibility of telecommuting may actually be an adjustment. Personally, I make myself get dressed instead of sitting in my pajamas, and had to settle into my own version of a routine, even if it didn’t involve getting in the car to go to the office. And if you are a Type B person, telecommuting may provide too much flexibility which translates into less productivity.
  • Social: Telecommuting, no doubt, does take a specific type of person. You have to be content with the lack of daily face-to-face interaction with your colleagues. No, there aren’t spontaneous donuts waiting in the breakroom, and no miscellaneous chats at the water cooler.
  • On-Call: Just as we list productivity as a pro, telecommuting also means it’s ten times more difficult to leave work at work and commit to normal hours. (But hey, maybe that’s a bonus for your boss!) A former supervisor always used to say, “The flight of stairs downstairs isn’t enough of a transition from work Amy to mom Amy.”
  • Technically Speaking: You can’t walk down the hall to the IT department asking why your email archive folder is missing, or join the rest of the office in a coffee break when your internet goes down. No, you are on the phone with the internet provider or your IT rep begging for a solution.

When it comes down to it, you probably aren’t choosing to telecommute unless you have an arsenal of reasons that make it worth it, but what are your thoughts? Would you be well-suited to telecommute or do you prefer the traditional office environment?

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