Pent-up demand for in-person events and price hikes across the industry have created the perfect storm for meeting and event planners. The costs of holding live events have certainly increased, but most planners find that their budgets just aren’t budging. Talk about sticker shock!
If higher costs have become one of your biggest challenges when executing meetings and events, you’re not alone. Close to 65% of respondents in a study from Skift Meetings are coping with stretched budgets as the industry continues to recover from the pandemic, and all signs are pointing to a busy year ahead.
In today’s super-heated market, suppliers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to contract negotiations. However, being flexible with your plans and asking the right questions will help you maximize your event budget. Don’t forget: Negotiation is expected. Be transparent, but fair, about what you have to spend; they want your business!
We all want to maximize our event budget for the elements that most impact a great attendee experience. From sourcing to execution, here are tips to help you stretch your event dollars:
Destinations and Hotels
Hotel demand is higher than ever, and room rates in 2023 have risen nearly 20% compared to 2019. Here are some considerations when selecting your destination, hotel and off-site venues:
- Reach out to CVBs (Convention Visitor Bureaus or Tourism Boards) to explore possible promotions or rebates to book their destination.
- When negotiating concessions and amenities in your hotel contract, don’t leave anything open to interpretation. Confirm your “must haves” for concessions and focus your efforts on what’s most important to your group. Asking for everything dilutes your negotiating power.
- If you’re committed to an international destination, consider locations with Value-Added Tax (VAT) exemption policies and be sure to follow up with their particular requirements.
- Select a walkable city to avoid local transportation costs. Bonus: It reinforces healthy habits by building wellness into your event.
- With more costly and limited hotel function space available, choosing a unique, off-site venue can be less expensive for meetings, break-outs and general sessions.
- Trendy venues are popping up in many cities and provide a much more customizable experience – with greater (often free) branding opportunities.
- For an incentive trip that might include sponsored group activities, consider more “time at leisure” as both a cost savings measure and a response to participant wishes. Post-event surveys continue to show that people want more relaxed, on-own time; a more custom experience to explore the local destination their way!
Food and Beverage (F&B)
As many planners know, food and beverage can make or break your event. These days, attendee dietary restrictions are more diverse than ever and planners need to be able to meet these needs no matter how unique or complex. Overall spending on F&B is a significant percentage of the overall budget, and 58% of respondents to the 2023 State of the Meetings Industry survey expect those costs to be at least 20% higher in 2023. No pressure! Even though prices are increasing, there are ways to extend your budget and still create a culinary “wow” moment for your attendees:
- Work directly with the hotel or venue’s culinary team to design a food and beverage plan that meets your budget requirements. They will know what’s in season and best priced at the time of your event, to design a menu that is both impressive and cost-friendly.
- Stay on top of attendee management and attrition dates within the contract so you have an accurate headcount to avoid wasting food (and money).
- Service charges, fees and gratuities in your contract can be confusing. Review them carefully. Understand what charges will be retained by the hotel vs. those paid to service employees as a gratuity. This helps determine which fees you may ask to have reduced.
- While many groups are already using water stations with pitchers and glasses instead of single-use plastic, not everyone is there yet. Water stations are less expensive AND much better for the environment!
- Providing a cash allowance for dine-arounds can be more cost-effective than a sit-down, group dinner, and bonus… your participants get a more local experience.
The skies are full again and this surge has created more challenges for event planners. Airlines are struggling to keep up with soaring demand which has boosted average ticket prices by 25.6% from January 2022 to January 2023. Airline pricing is unpredictable and bundled hidden fees have made estimating budgets even more complex. However, there are still strategies available to find the best fares:
- Using an experienced partner – one who specializes in group travel for meetings and events, will help you manage your air budget by finding the best flight options at the lowest prices. The value of logistics experience in this area can’t be overstated as the key factor in successfully managing air budgets.
- If possible, be flexible with dates and arrival/departure patterns of the program. On average, flights that depart on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday are 12% lower in cost than weekend departures.
- If you have a large number of participants traveling together from the same origin city, choosing flight-specific group blocks can guarantee both the availability of the lift to your event destination, along with the airfare (price is locked in).
- Consider how strict you want to be with mandating air travel policies. Booking the most people on “preferred carriers” will help you meet your market-share thresholds and contract agreements. Managing the tension between convenience and the lowest airfare is what sets apart expert group travel counselors.
Your production strategy is key to bringing your event to life. Energy, emotion and storytelling! Well-designed events create unique, immersive moments that engage your audience and drive your message home. There are several factors contributing to a rise in production costs, but there are still ways to spend wisely and maximize your budget:
- Hiring an experienced event company to lead your production strategy will provide value by finding the best rates and solutions to bring your event to life. Remember that you aren’t just hiring for equipment; you’re hiring for the expertise and talent behind the equipment, too.
- Logistics: by planning the proper load in/out times, there will be reduced overtime costs and labor hours. Time is money!
- Technology: using battery-operated lights for scenic and staging in your set design will reduce power costs.
- Labor: A seasoned Executive Producer has the expertise to bring in a local crew and reduce transportation costs.
Content: Communications and Messaging
Thoughtful event marketing and a creative communication strategy are the secret weapons of a successful program. Have you considered how to get the most value out of your content? By repurposing content for on-demand consumption, you reinforce your event’s messaging with your internal teams and expand the reach of your message to a wider audience. Here are additional ways to maximize the value of your event’s content:
- Digital signage saves on printing costs, production and shipping fees. Extra bonus…it’s friendlier for the environment too.
- Using a mobile event app for communications is a key tactic to reduce waste (and costs) and is usually less expensive than printing communication pieces.
- If you have a virtual audience segment, recording live sessions will always provide savings over the cost of live streaming.
- Bonus: Be sure to carry through any messaging from your general session into the rest of your event – make the talk-track cohesive!
With careful and strategic planning, you can stay on budget without sacrificing the quality of the attendee experience! If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that event planners are more resilient, creative and innovative than ever, and the future of live events is bright.