Category Archives: Industry Takes

Our thoughts on industry news, events and trends.

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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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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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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Maximize Your Earning Potential

As a follow up to our previous post on Frequent Flyer Programs, and for those readers who don’t typically get to travel as frequently as they would like, we wanted to share some other ways to help you incur frequent flyer miles.

Many Frequent Flyer programs offer alternate methods to get you closer to redeeming a free ticket. While miles/points earned through affiliate programs won’t apply to reaching an elite status they will apply to your mileage balance. Check out the alternatives below and be sure to read in to them!

Airline Network partners: Almost every major airline in the world is part of a network of airline partners. There are three:

• Skyteam (www.skyteam.com)
• Star Alliance (www.staralliance.com)
• Oneworld (www.oneworld.com).

You are able to receive frequent flyer mileage credit for any preferred program anytime you travel on a carrier within the same network of partners. For example, if you are a Delta Skymiles member, you can choose to receive your mileage credit on Delta when flying any of the airlines within the Skyteam network. Familiarize yourself with the airline network that your preferred airline is a part of so that you can filter your flight options accordingly and increase your accrual opportunities on your preferred carrier.

Hotel Properties and Rental Car Company Partners: Many hotel properties and rental car vendors allow you to select an option through their own reward programs to link your frequent flyer number and accrue airline miles/points. We recommend that you double check your account options for any hotel/car programs that you are a member of and ensure that your preferred airline program is selected as the default for any mileage/points accrual opportunities.

Credit / Debit Cards: Majority of airlines feature affiliated credit cards and debit cards that allow you to earn miles towards their frequent flyer program for every dollar charged. Check with each of airline websites under ‘ways to earn miles’ for a list of affiliates.

Mileage Malls: Larger airlines offer shopping programs with an extensive network of retailers that award you miles/points for purchases made through their designated website. Additionally, they may offer free shipping and other promotions. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the Mileage Mall for your airline of choice and start earning miles/points for your purchases.

And More: There are many more earning opportunities… either too many to list or limited-time offers for each airline program. We’d recommend that you go to the ‘GET MILES’ section of your frequent flyer program webpage to get familiar with the standard offerings and frequently check back for additional opportunities added. It’s a great way to increase your mileage balance with little effort!

**Special thanks to Michelle Reese, Travel Manager with Integress Meetings and Events for her significant contribution to this post.

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Which Frequent Flyer Program is Right for You?

We have had a couple of readers ask, “Which frequent flyer program is the best?” A lot of people don’t realize that it’s a common question without an easy answer.

Transportation, particularly airline transportation, is a major factor in the tourism industry. Today, airlines have moved toward competing with each other via extra benefits and perks. In part, this takes the form of airline frequent flyer programs. Let’s take a look at four of the major airlines and their benefits, as well as key factors and other information that will be useful in deciding which frequent flyer program is best for you.

There are essentially 4 main Airlines in the US. Below is a comparison chart of the frequent flyer programs offered by each of the 4 carriers:

The key to maximizing your mileage earning potential is to select one preferred frequent flyer program and stick with it. Again, you find yourself asking, ‘Which program is the best?’ Since there are several different airline programs and various determining factors in selecting a program, the best program is essentially the one that works best for YOU. With that said, the best program for you will be the one that provides you with the most opportunities for mileage accrual and the most rewards with the least amount of effort and cost.

Generally, the key factors in selecting a program should be based on where you live and how frequently you travel. Where you live determines your main airport, and since each airport typically has one airline that dominates the share of flight schedules and availability, the program for that carrier will most likely be the best choice for accruing mileage during travel. How frequently you travel will determine your ability to reach different tiers within a program, which determine the additional perks that are available to you. For many program members, the goal is to accrue enough miles to earn free travel. However if you travel frequently, you may want to focus on perks that come with reaching different tiers within the various programs.  Elite status allows you access to preferred seating, priority boarding, upgrades, waived baggage fees, and more!

**Special thanks to Michelle Reese, Travel Manager with Integress Meetings and Events for her significant contribution to this post.

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Finding the Right EMS

Remember how we mentioned that we were building an event management system (EMS)? Do you also remember about how we mentioned that we’d kill to purchase one instead? Well, the event gods have answered our prayers. We have been in the market for a new EMS for the last couple of months, and for any of you out there that think that choosing an out-of-the-box system is easy…we beg to differ! There are many different options out there. Some systems are much more complex than others. Regardless of which vendor we choose, we will be able to breathe easy knowing that this software was built by meeting planners, for meeting planners.

With so many options available, how do you make a decision? We are hoping that you have some personal experience that you’d like to share! What EMS do you use, how long have you been using it, and what are the pros and cons?

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