I’m off to Milan tomorrow, on a recce to check out venues ahead of a big conference in April next year. It’s a heavily packed schedule of meetings and inspections, and the outcome will be to select the right place that ticks all the boxes for the event we’re planning. 

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Anybody who has spent time looking for a conference venue will know that the variety of locations can be overwhelming. Where do all the delegates have to fly from and to and how convenient will the destination airport be for them? Then there’s the type of venue – another maze to negotiate; spa hotels, business hotels, golf hotels, resort hotels, city centre hotels, oh I could go on and on! So how do you choose the right hotel for your event?

You've got lots of groundwork to do before going anywhere - asking lots of questions of the meeting leader. How many people? Style of meeting? Duration of conference? Format and style? Activities? Cultural trips? Now this list is so long that I would need more than a blog to cover it all, but the venue is critical in having a successful experience for all delegates so an essential part of the job is seeing the venue before booking.

Now people  might think that when I say I'm going on a 'recce' (from the military term reconnoitre or reconnaissance) that it's just a freebie trip and I'll sit by the pool in Milan, take in some shops and eat all I can at night. Well sadly, not so. A recce is the first and most important part of choosing a venue for a conference or meeting.

First impressions are as they say, most important. From the entrance you drive through (is it easy to find?) to the grounds you drive through (what's the upkeep like?) to the greeting you receive. These all play a part in making your choice. Getting an impression of the staff, manning level and attitude as well as the overall cleanliness of the place are vital considerations (including the loos and are there enough for 300 people when they exit the conference room after a long meeting?) You'll have to see the bedrooms; from the basic room at the back of the hotel to the executive suites at the front, the meeting rooms and breakout rooms, restaurant and bar all have to be seen. You may well be put off by the gaudy carpet in a conference room, but it may also be the room with the best (and most distracting) view.

Food of course will be tested, tasted and tried. You'll  arrange for the chef to provide samples of the chosen dishes and wine, it's a bit like Masterchef but without Greg or John.

Your contact in the sales department should introduce you to the manager that you'll deal with on the day, a hotels service level can change radically shift by shift. You’ll need to decide whether the hotel is capable of handling the technology you require and might need to find a local AV supplier to do this part, with their own technicians. (That’ll need checking out too).

Now multiply this by the 4 hotels and 5 gala dinner venues we're seeing and that 48 hour visit turns into a long yet critical inspection which will make all the difference to the outcome of the event for the client! Oh and then there are rates to be negotiated- that can be tricky. On the other hand, you could always get theblueballroom to do it for you? We love conferences!

So Ciao for now.

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