Ask These 5 Questions Before Planning Your Next Meeting

How meeting planners can prioritize what matters most to their organization in planning their next event.

Association executives want to hit a homerun with every conference. No one’s happy with so-so speakers, breakout sessions, food and entertainment—least of all the people who planned the event.

So, what can conference planners do to ensure they are putting on the best possible meeting each and every time? Choosing the right host city helps more than it used to.

Here are five questions to consider before you book your next conference site.

1. Is the host city going to be a true partner?

You absolutely need a host city to become your partner in planning your associations’ meetings. Local support can be absolutely critical to event success.

Business Events Canada (BEC) offers one-stop shopping for event planners looking to host a conference or meeting.

“We identify and recommend the best locale to host your program,” said Chantal Sturk-Nadeau with BEC. Her team provides details to plan a program, including site support, RFP facilitation, customs, and tax queries—plus industry contacts.

You’ll definitely want a partner who “understands the importance of association meetings,” said Peter J. O’Neill, CAE, CEO of ASIS International in Alexandria, Va. He’s led two meetings north of the border, one in Montréal and another in Toronto. Meeting planners should also choose a host city that “understands the importance of aligning their own business interests with their client to ensure a win-win and so much more,” O’Neill said.

2. Is this also a good vacation location?

Don’t underestimate the power of the “bleisure” experience—combining business and leisure often makes a conference more appealing to attendees and their families.

Vancouver is the perfect mix of bustling city and natural beauty. The city boasts a gorgeous coastline along with multiple waterways, and the 1,000-acre Stanley Park, at the northwestern edge of downtown, offers an abundance of biking and hiking trails. The city is also a great jumping-off point to Whistler, Victoria, Alaska cruises, and the Okanagan Valley wine region, making extended stays a real lure.

And architecture buffs will want to spend a few extra days in Montréal. The city boasts spaces like Place Ville Marie, a 47-story cruciform office tower with an observation deck on the 46th floor that highlights the city’s architectural charm. Also, the completely renovated 1,165-seat Rialto Theatre is a visual knockout with marble staircases, painted ceilings, gilded moldings, and a Tiffany-stained glass dome.

3. Can we tap into a host city’s university and business pool?

Looking for great keynote speakers and even help with breakout-session ideas?

Many host cities have a direct pipeline to some of the best minds in the world—all of whom can make your meeting more successful.

Carylann Assante, CAE, executive director of the SYTA Youth Foundation in McLean, Va., has held meetings in Whistler, Toronto and Québec. And in January, SYTA hosted its Summit in Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta. “We used local business leaders as speakers, and it truly reduced costs and enhanced the experience,” Assante said.

Nicole Havers, meeting manager for Vancouver Meeting and Conventions, notes that her city, like many forward-thinking locales, have programs for connecting meeting planners with the local brain trust.

“Many of our hosts come from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University,” Havers said. “We often connect meeting planners with universities, centers of excellence, leading research facilities and teaching hospitals. This enables delegates to collaborate within their field of expertise.”

4. How important is global innovation as a backdrop to our conference?

Whether it’s information technology or aerospace and engineering—and yes, even the arts or retail—ensuring the host city has the resources to support your conference’s mission is essential.

Many Canadian cities boast a well-rounded cadre of businesses that can serve as the backbone for meeting planning. Ottawa, for example, offers—including high tech (Lumentum), finance (Bank of Canada), aerospace and defense (Lockheed Martin Canada), international business (Export Development Canada) and medicine (Medical Council of Canada).

Toronto boasts homegrown business juggernauts like Rogers Communications, Toronto-Dominion Bank, and Bridgehead Coffee. And through initiatives like The Leaders Circle, top innovators and researchers help bring international meetings to Toronto.

5. What types of incentive are host cities offering us?

When budgets are tight—and aren’t they all these days—incentives can make a big difference.

All of Alberta’s conference locations have destination-marketing funds that may be applicable for rebates to a group’s master account once a meeting is set in stone. This can dramatically offset an association’s costs.

Kyla Knudson, director of East Coast USA Meetings, Incentives, Conventions & Events for Travel Alberta, said her group’s complimentary services include gathering proposals from hotels and conference centers, coordinating site inspections and assisting with customs, freight and tax reimbursement.

“Travel Alberta and its partners also offer airfare support, enabling association planners unfamiliar with our province to see our offerings firsthand,” Knudson said.

Site selection is no longer just about the finding a city with the right-size venue that fits your budget. As in real estate, pulling off your best conference is increasingly about location, location, location—but, more specifically, what the location can offer you and your attendees.

For more information about planning your next amazing conference, visit