Conference organisers are spoilt for choice these days, with hotels, leisure centres, golf clubs and even theatres and cinemas vying for their business alongside dedicated conference centres. There are so many factors that need to be considered when choosing where to book, from size and facilities to location and ease of accessibility. It's crucial that you as the organiser have very clear objectives in mind about what you want your event to achieve. This will help you make a sensible decision, based on how your preferred venue fits your specific requirements. Here are some areas to consider.
If you're going to need more than one room, or a larger space than normal, go for a conference centre, which will have been built with a business environment in mind. Most centres offer a range of rooms with different dimensions, as well as bespoke conferencing facilities, such as free wifi, IT, projectors and screens, lighting and sound systems, room dividers, ergonomic seating and fully-equipped break-out spaces, all managed by business event specialist staff. Depending on the terms of your hire, you can often make last-minute changes to your booking too, adding or removing smaller rooms more easily than in other venues. Hotels and other venues also offer versatility to an extent, however, they are limited by other guests and previously booked events. Many hotels are historical and can even be listed, meaning that the use of certain rooms or areas is protected and restricted by law
Most conference venues offer various catering packages for you to choose the one most suited to your delegates and agenda. You will need teas and coffees for arrival and break times, lunches and dinners, along with breakfast in the case of residential or early morning events. You will also need to cater for various dietary needs, including vegetarians, allergies and religious or cultural requirements. Conference centres have dedicated restaurants or dining areas, while hotels usually set up meals in the main restaurant, or in the meeting room itself, after staff have transformed it into a suitable layout. Again, only you will know which approach will be best for your event. Less traditional venues offer the added attraction of eating in an unusual theatre cafe, for example, or overlooking a beautiful racecourse.
One particularly important benefit of using a conference centre is that you can usually book it for your organisation's exclusive use. This allows you to add sensitive topics to the agenda, and facilitate private discussions without the fear of being overheard by the general public. It's also a great option for training sessions that require more intense concentration with no external interruptions. Hotels can be effective at retaining privacy, however, they tend not to be able to offer exclusive use, nor total peace and quiet
LEISURE AND CONFERENCE FACILITIES
Both hotels and conference centres will normally provide a dedicated member of staff to help you run your event, plus free use of various pieces of equipment, furniture, cloakroom and refreshment areas. However, hotels might charge for other business services like wifi, faxing and photocopying. When it comes to leisure, many conference centres have cafes and sports facilities on site. Hotels and other venues tend to provide a wider choice of leisure options, such as swimming pools, gyms and spas, but check whether the use of these are included in your quoted price, or whether you will be charged separately for them. If your conference venue is close to town, this can widen the choice even more, and delegates can wander further afield in their spare time to enjoy tourist attractions, shopping and meals out.
ACCESSIBILITY AND TRANSPORT
Clearly, every venue will be different when it comes to accessibility, and how easy it is to get there by car or public transport. You will need to work out the needs of your attendees, especially anyone with disabilities. Conference centres tend to offer extensive secure parking and added courtesies, such as taxi booking services or shuttle buses to meet delegates off trains. Larger hotels are normally very well signposted from the road and will also have plenty of car parking, however, delegates will have to compete for spaces with regular guests, unless the hotel has been booked for exclusive use.
Update: For a closer look at why hotels do not lend themselves to healthcare conferences click here.