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Meeting notes for today's meeting planner

Welcome (back) to the U.S.A

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Aimed primarily at Brazil and China, the U.S. President signed an executive order last Thursday with one of the expressed goals being the reduction in application time for non-immigrant visas.

Read the entire  press release here.

VENUE MENU–Lisbon, Portugal

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There’s a lot of “Shh”-ing going on in Portugal, but it isn’t in an effort to keep the value of Lisbon a secret.

Having just returned from a week in this western European country where I discovered an “s” is pronounced “sh” or “ch” or “gia” depending on where you are from, I can say with certainty that Portugal offers a great value for groups looking to experience Europe, without the sting of the Euro.

In five days, I was only able to see a fraction of what the country has to offer for groups, and so focused my energy on the capital, Lisbon.  After a fairly easy, 7-hour flight from Newark, we arrived in Lisbon and in 45 minutes we made it through customs, collected our bags, and emerged into the still-dark city.   After a ten minute drive, we arrived at our hotel—the Tiara Park Atlantic Lisboa.

Tiara Park is located directly across the street from the Four Seasons Lisbon. The Tiara has been fabulously kept up, and the one thing that might be considered “old” is the dedication to great service.  Guest rooms are appointed with dark wood, chrome fixtures, and marble.  The hotel was happy to provide everyone with the proper electronic converters and adapters, and bathrooms were home to Hermes toiletries.  In the mornings, a full breakfast is served in the restaurant off the lobby.  Breakfast, I would come to learn, is a serious affair in Portuguese hotels and I was never disappointed with the spread. 

After a 3-hour nap, our first visit was to the new Nation’s Park District.  Here, the modern architecture stands in stunning contrast to the rest of Lisbon, and on a sunny day, one would be content to walk along the brackish riverside for hours exploring the sculpture gardens, or take a gondola ride over the water to the Oceanario, the city’s aquarium.  For a small group of 20, one of the balconies beside this huge tank filled with sea life would make a captivating cocktail area.  To get here, take GPS-ready go carts for an exciting transfer experience.

Over the next few days we visited a slew of historic sites offering ample space for unique events. Of these sites, most are reminiscent of the shared Christian-Judeo-Moorish history that is Lisbon.  A visit to the Mafra National Palace would make for an interesting afternoon, but head to Jeronimos Monastery in the Belem Quarter if you want to see the tomb of Vasco de Gama.  Of course, the city had its fair share of transportation options, but my favorite was the city’s classic cable car which takes you across town, or up the steep narrow streets to restaurants that might otherwise go undiscovered. 

For a more seaside experience, I recommend heading to the city of Cascais.  About 4o minutes north of the airport, Cascais is where the James Bond movie. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” was filmed, and where the Estoril Casino still stands proud.  Groups opting for an upscale experience should stay at the Hotel Palacio Estoril, which, together with its gleaming marble, crystal chandeliers, and pink and orange furnishings in the public areas, reflects a tasteful feel of old Hollywood glam.  Outdoor function space abounds here, and the food is remarkable.  While fish is definitely on the menu throughout Portugal, one can still find great non-fish items.  The nearby town of Colares is home to Portugal’s best white wines, and Sintra, also close by, offers Portugal’s best handmade tiles.

For a European experience at a fraction of the cost, try visiting Cascais, Sintra, and of course, downtown Lisbon.  Between the old world charm of the former, and the history and shopping found in the latter, groups are sure to have an intriguing setting for an incentive with networking and teambuilding components.

VENUE MENU – The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas

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With quite possibly the best shopping in the West, the City Center in Las Vegas is already poised to steal the limelight from its contemporary competitors on either side of the strip, and that’s before you consider the three hotels on property!  By far, the crown jewel of this 76-acre complex is the new, non-gaming Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas.  What this hotel may lack in the flow of green through a casino, it makes up for in its LEED Gold Certification, and the property still retains the brand’s trademark luxury feel, world-class spa, and top-rate dining.

So what sets it apart?  According to Brenda Rivers (CEO, Andavo Meetings & Incentives) and Ezana Araya (Director CRM and Program Management) who visited this property last month, two things:

First:  the atmosphere.  Providing a fresh (and quite frankly, overdue) new take on the Vegas experience, this cozy, upscale hotel (392 rooms is cozy by Vegas standards!) delivers a sense of calm that, from the moment you arrive at the bamboo-lined porte-cochere,  makes you feel impervious to the trappings of the Strip.

Second: the service.  Best described as “understatedly refined” it is THE signature feature of this hotel.

Next time you’re planning an incentive or simply want a personal getaway in Las Vegas, consider the Mandarin Oriental for some serenity in the beloved city of sin.

GENERAL SESSION: Building the Case for a Strategic Meetings Management Program (SMMP)

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If you are an in-house meeting arranger and your “directive” for 2011 is to get control of your company’s meeting spend, where do you start?  Inevitably, you must start with selling the idea of a meetings management program to your executives.  Perhaps you know that a strategic meetings management program will help you “get control of meeting spend” by improving accountability, cutting costs, and managing risk without sacrificing business outcomes and attendee experience, but in order to enact an SMMP, you must develop the business case to pitch the idea to your executive suite.  In today’s climate of demonstrating return on investment, you need to be clear on what the cost/benefit will be, how much time it will take to realize the gain and how to show measureable results on regular intervals.

The foundation for making your business case should begin with an opportunity analysis.  “Opportunities” can arise from fragmented meeting decision-making across business units, as this does not allow the company to leverage annual data to minimize risk and maximize savings. When delivering your business case, a strong point will be made if no one can answer the questions:

  • How much money did the company spend last year on meetings and events?
  • How many hotels did we use last year for meetings and events, and what was our
    average room cost?
  • Who are our preferred suppliers?
  • Who oversees contract compliance for meetings?

A little shock treatment can go a long way to get the attention and support of executives, but you should also get the necessary baseline data, which will support your overall business objectives. Your presentation should include an assessment by your procurement and finance team of your company’s current meeting state in terms of:  number and size of meetings, suppliers, average per person cost, food, beverage, entertainment and audio/visual costs, and penalties paid. Often a cancellation or attrition penalty for one meeting can pay for the time and resources for an entire year of a managed meetings program!

Your case should also review the existing written risk management plans with contingency back up on each significant meeting. These plans should include contingency planning for legal, financial, regulatory and safety risk. If there is no central oversight for meeting risk management, how much could that cost the company in potential liability?

Overall, your business case should be brief, compelling, data driven and results oriented!  When you are successful, you will have the backing and support of the C-level, which is the first important step in achieving your goals. Estimate your desired return based on industry benchmarks.  The good news is the return can be quick and significant. You will see immediate savings in the first year of a meetings management program.  Business statistics from Forbes, Future Watch and Aberdeen Group show an average cost savings of 10% – 20%for companies with a SMMP. Most companies spend 3% of gross revenues on meetings, which yields a measureable savings that should not be missed by procurement or finance. If you can identify what and where the current meetings spend is, and effectively communicate your meetings program goals via your business case, a centralized policy and database is sure to evolve.

BREAKOUT SESSION: Meetings and Going Green-can the two mix?

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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR for short) is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into a business model.  Introduced into the corporate lexicon in the 1970’s, the inclusion of public interest into corporate decision-making via CSR is now quite commonplace.

So, how do meeting planners fit into the world of CSR? Short answer-by going GREEN!  Corporate meetings, by virtue of their inherent environmental footprint, represent a unique opportunity for meeting planners to contribute to their organizations’ CSR strategies.  Unlike transient corporate travel, the finite nature of meetings provides planners with specific and controllable components.  A few examples of these components are meeting location, hotel facility management, food and beverage management, marketing materials, and basic communication guidelines.  Managing these components in green fashion will typically align meetings with organizations’ CSR initiatives.

For a great example in green meetings, take a look at how McDonalds committed to making their 2008 Worldwide Convention green.

For more answers on how to take your meetings green, visit us online or contact us.

BREAKOUT SESSION: Managing Stakeholders’ Objectives & Why It’s Important

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In the midst of all of the planning you have done for your upcoming meeting, have you kept your stakeholders’ objectives in mind?  While planners are generally aware of the logistical objectives of their meeting, somewhere in between the RFP’s, the BEO’s, and the DMC’s, the high-level strategic and organizational objectives are,  more often than not, only reviewed when it’s time to execute the meeting.  Most planners know the feeling…. it’s one week before your event and the executive sponsor of your meeting reviews the agenda and decides that’s not the message he or she was trying to convey.  Thus, agenda re-organization begins!

It’s a bit of a loaded question, but – why the big fuss about aligning stakeholders’ objectives?  Previous example aside, consider the following groups of stakeholders typically associated with a meeting and what their objectives could be:

Senior Executives – Typically the sponsors of your meeting; your objectives will need to roll up into their vision

Procurement – Based on your process, typically the department that adds credibility

Travel – Collaboration always provides optimal results

Legal/Regulatory – Will your meeting have any legal ramifications for your organization?

Finance – Compliance with your organizations data collection and payment processes for your meeting

This is just a small cross-section of stakeholders, but conducting a stakeholder analysis at the outset of the planning process will help you identify the parties likely to influence / be influenced by your meeting.  Take one step further and arrange a meeting with those stakeholders–either all together or in smaller groups–and allow them to reveal their objectives for your meeting.  You’ll be surprised at how much smoother the planning process will be once the stakeholders’ objectives are aligned with your meeting.

For more information how to begin this process feel free to visit our website or contact us.

BREAKOUT SESSION: SMMP – Why It’s Important …The List

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Strategic Meetings Management Program or SMMP…..the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) defines SMMP as “..a disciplined approach to managing enterprise-wide meeting and event activities, processes, suppliers and data in order to achieve measurable business objectives, aligned with the organization’s strategic goals and vision, and deliver value in the form of quantitative savings, risk mitigation and service quality.  It is a mufti-year corporate strategy customized to the corporate culture that is often led by a meeting, travel or procurement leader, or a meetings council made up of the key stakeholders.”

As accurate as that definition of SMMP might be, we’d like to define the importance of SMMP by outlining what it means for you.  And since its still the beginning of they year, what better than a list to demonstrate its importance?

1.     Greater understanding of your meetings data including costs, volume, attendance and ROI.

2.     Better business intelligence through easy and consistent analysis of meetings data.

3.     Reduced duplication of effort and improved meetings consistency/quality through consolidating meeting management to meeting planning teams or outsourced vendors.

4.     Cost savings through standardized procurement procedures.

5.     Costs savings through the establishment of preferred vendors, standardized contracts, reduced negotiation time, and increased vendor concessions from the leveraged buying power from focusing the meeting spend.

6.     Risk avoidance through meeting centralization of contracts focusing contract reviews and signing to contract experts.

7.     Reduced regulatory risks and improved legal compliance to regulations such a Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and the Healthcare Sunshine Act through policy guidelines and compliance tracking

8.     Increased efficiencies and productivity through standard operating procedures and technology automation.

9.     Greater meeting value and quality through ROI management and meeting consistency.

For more information or assistance deploying SMMP in your organization visit our website or  contact us.

BREAKOUT SESSION: Insourcing vs. Outsourcing – when do I ask for help?

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With new and improved business resolutions to achieve in 2011, company meetings will be essential to connecting team members for collaboration, ingenuity, and decision-making.  But when you, the in-house meeting planner, are presented with the year’s meeting needs, how will you determine which meetings can be managed internally, and which require you to outsource to a dedicated meeting planning company?

While stakeholders often have clearly defined business goals associated with their respective meetings, the same usually cannot be said for the components of those meetings.  One of the more critical responsibilities in-house meeting planners have is to determine when the necessary meeting components become complex enough to outsource.  A general rule of thumb in the meetings & events industry used to delineate insourcing vs. outsourcing has been the $10,000 threshold:  meetings that cost less than $10,000 can be managed internally while those that cost more than $10,000 should be managed externally.   There are of course a myriad of additional factors to consider before making your decision such as (deep breath) availability of internal resources with appropriate skill sets, total cost of ownership, service level guarantees, logistical cost of engagement, risk management concerns, tracking return on investment, managing cost avoidance, battles over attrition and contractual issues to name a few! Given the daunting nature of these additional factors, it becomes clear why many planners settle for the simpler $10K threshold for insourcing vs. outsourcing.

Since price alone is rarely the determining factor, consider the following four levels of outsourcing that articulate, simultaneously, why and how external assistance can be utilized:

STAFF AUGMENTATION-Consider this an option when your organization is looking to expand capacity by adding external resources during peak demand.

OUT-TASKING-Consider this an option if you can identify a specific set of functions or duties you can outsource to your suppliers who have deeper resources, more expertise or can provide greater efficiency.

PROJECT BASED-Consider this an option when you can outsource your events based on their type or complexity (or both).

MANAGED SERVICES-Consider this an option when your event has its scope defined from end-to-end and the entire process should be outsourced to your supplier(s).

The inherent evaluation that takes place while assessing when to utilize these levels of outsourcing will preclude those meetings or events that can be managed internally.

For more information on this topic or to discuss it in more detail, feel free to post a comment below, contact us or visit our website.

GENERAL SESSION: Identifying Your Greatest Challenges As An In-House Meeting Planning Arranger – by Brenda Rivers

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At the recent Andavo Meetings and Incentives’ client Edu-Forum, held at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a gathering of in-house meetings arrangers representing a wide span of industries shared their most pressing challenges for 2011. Within each challenge, lies great opportunity for those arrangers who are able to find appropriate solutions that create added value and help their organizations reach their business goals.

The winning opportunities ARE: (in ascending order)

10. How to have each meeting stakeholder clearly articulate their desired business outcome for a meeting.
Gaining buy-in and support from stakeholders is critical to the success of any meeting or event. Often, stakeholders are not fully engaged in the meeting design phase which can create a disconnect with the business purpose of the meeting and make it difficult to create metrics for success.

9.  How to develop a meeting theme to engage and re-energize employees to bring morale back after a period of grave economic stress and massive layoffs.
The days of the old “boondoggle” employee incentive are over and meeting arrangers must find ways to do much more than arrange golf and activities at a 5 star hotel. Employee engagement is the new incentive.

8.  How do in-house meeting arrangers know that they are doing the best at being innovative and creative?
Keeping ideas fresh and exciting within restrictive budgets and an ever present watchful eye from board members takes more than a quick Google search.

7.  How to find relevant data on past programs in order to demonstrate that more could be done in the future to create programs with greater purpose and measurable outcomes. Too often, the key in-house meeting arrangers have great ideas for improvement but lack sufficient data to create the business case for their executive sponsors. This raises the pressing need for training on the principles of a strategic meetings management program and policy guidelines.

6.  How to deal effectively with little or no lead time for meetings and events, to avoid extreme stress, lack of strategic planning, cost overruns and total burn out(!)
This is the age of last minute planning. Gone are the days when companies had the luxury of planning one to two years in advance. The consensus is that short term planning is the norm and the bar is raised to learn strategies which keep the process efficient, streamlined and under control.

5.  What are the most important ways to justify expenses to the financial stakeholders?
How can meeting arrangers measure tangible and intangible returns in order to show return on the investment on the meeting dollars spent? Financial accountability is at the top of the list when it comes to meeting the procurement stakeholders’ business outcomes.

4.  How do you create the business case to “pitch” to your boss, the need for a more strategic meetings policy?
And the pitch to outsource those elements of strategic design, planning and execution which are not within your organization’s core competencies?

3.  How is an effective crisis management policy built with risk management guidelines?
All planners are increasingly concerned with issues of safety, financial integrity and risk management. A new brand of due diligence must begin early in the design phase in order to create the safety net for intelligent crisis management.

2. How to keep programs upscale, innovative, motivating, inspiring and educational…..despite budget cuts?
That is the $64 million question. But, the winner is:

The #1 greatest challenge for meeting arrangers in 2011:


Our panel’s answer is: NO, there is no silver bullet BUT there are principles and methods which can be applied to help demonstrate the following:

  • Did the meeting result in the desired outcomes for all stakeholders?
  • To what degree and at what cost per attendee, was the percentage of financial and subjective return on the dollars invested?

Stay tuned for more AMI insights from our esteemed clients!

GENERAL SESSION: Vendors vs. Strategic Partners and Why the Difference Is Important

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The long (and sometimes slow) march towards Strategic Meetings Management in the meeting industry has been sermonized in almost every industry forum, white paper, case study and any other platform over the last decade.  And yet the message itself has NOT lost steam- in fact its more important than ever.

 The typical vendor-client relationship is designed to deliver service on a transactional if not case-by-case basis.  The results derived from this level of relationship are limited in value and impact to the organization.   On the other hand, strategic partnership is one that yields value as well as value creation beyond the stated goals of your organization.

 So ask yourself some of these questions and your answers might help you determine whether the suppliers you are working with are truly strategic partners or just vendors ….

  • Do your suppliers proactively work with you to identify your organizational stakeholders when planning a meeting?
  • Do your suppliers proactively work with you to align your stakeholders’ objectives?
  • Do your suppliers spend as much time with you on diligence as they do on logistics?
  • Do your suppliers behave only as your vendor or as an extension of your team?

 As you ponder the answers to these questions (!) take a look at a wonderful example from MeetingsNet of a company making the transition to strategic partnership based supplier relationships.