When it comes to selecting venues in Dubai we have a lot of choice, the same would be true for all big cities, so where do you start? I mentioned the importance of location in a previous post, so start there, and when you’ve shortlisted places that fit the bill you can start to look at each in more detail.
Venues have great websites, a gallery of fabulous photos and capacity charts for the space available, so selecting one for your event should be straightforward right? Yes, however you should be aware of a few curve balls, such as:
- Do the capacity guidelines take into account a stage for speakers, a podium, space for back projection? Often not, the capacity chart will be the maximum number of tables they can get in the room in a specific layout using the whole floor space.
- Are their pillars in the room? Some hotels will show them on the photos, others do not.
- How is the pre-function space divided up if you only take one section of the Ballroom?
- What are the specs for the projector? Is it ceiling mounted or will it be on the floor – in which case you need to allow for space.
- Is there free WIFI? Everyone needs WIFI and if you have to pay for it, this could have a big impact on your budget. Most hotels in the Middle East include it, but in Europe there are often hefty charges. This could be a deal breaker.
The first interaction you will have with a venue will be submitting a Request for Proposal (RfP). Personally I loathe online RfP’s and I will actively avoid using venues that insist you complete one to get a price, rarely do the drop down boxes on the form relate to what the requirements are for your event, and the focus is heavily on selling rooms. I will always call the venue, get the name of someone in event sales and send the request direct. Instantly you start to build a rapport with that person. You can tell a lot from the venue by what response you get to the RfP, on many occasions it will be a copy paste of the last proposal the venue did, often without changing the names of the previous client, I expect them to at least have read the brief and have taken the time to provide me with the information I need to go back to the client.
In Dubai certainly, more and more hotels will not sell their event space without a commitment to hotel bedrooms. I get this, I understand if you have 1,500 rooms to sell and only one Ballroom you want to make sure you sell it at the best price and that means including rooms. The rule here is that hotels will not offer space without rooms until 3 months out from the event. In the Middle East there are a lot of “last minute” bookings, so this might not affect as many event planners as you might imagine, however, for me it’s a problem. My clients like to secure events minimum 6 months out and I have a lot of Dubai conferences for people living in Dubai who do not require rooms. How I overcome this is by building relationships with the venues I know suit my clients, if I bring repeat business the venues are often more flexible on the rooms, or I target new venues when they are keen to sell the space during the “soft opening” period.
If you are in location it’s easy to do site inspections of the venues on the shortlist, however if you are sitting thousands of miles away and only have the internet to help you how can you be sure to pick the right place? I have organised many events for which I arrive 24 hours in advance having never been onsite. It’s scary. I would strongly recommend you seek out a local event planner to do site inspections, it really is money well spent. I offer this service in Dubai for a set fee, having someone who knows the venues and the location for the event (including things like local holidays, road closures, major construction sites etc) who can give you honest impartial feedback could be the difference between success and failure.
For my conferences the networking part of the event is as important, if not more so than the content, so make sure that the pre-function space works, don’t focus all your attention on the conference room itself. I know venues that have brilliant Ballrooms, but whoever designed the pre-function space was certainly not an event planner, some have escalators running right through the middle, some put the Ballroom in resort hotels on the main thoroughfare to bedrooms, so whilst your delegates are networking in business attire families in beachwear are wandering through the space. It’s also important to check what else is booked in the hotel that day, if the venue has a lot of function rooms have the hotel had to hire in agency staff? Will the be enough valet/parking? Does everyone have a dedicated area for lunch? Will there be adequate signage? The more you know in advance the better prepared you are to tackle any challenges that might arise.
For me selecting the venue is the most important part of the event, and I could write several articles highlighting my experiences, but for now I will leave it at that, in future posts I will come back to items like F&B and A/V.
I will get back to planning my events for the weekend now, a social lunch for the cycling group and my son’s sweet sixteen. See you next time