The word cutbacks seems to be front and center again this year. Do cutbacks have you wondering how to plan a conference without making it appear dull and uninteresting? Well, lucky for you I’m here to tell you that there are ways to plan a conference without eliminating all of your extracurricular components. Seasoned meeting and conference planners know all too well that when you start removing, what some consider to be, fringe elements of a program you also start to lose attendee interest. And let’s face it, if you can’t attract the attendees your conference or event might not even make it into reality.

How to Plan a Conference While Saving at the Same Time

Of course there are elements to every conference that, under budget pressures, could be eliminated without affecting the overall appeal of the conference itself. However, we also know there are certain elements that are attendees have become accustomed to. This is especially true with association conferences as the association gets a great deal of its operating revenue from their conferences. Therefore it’s crucial that these programs continue. And herein lies the challenge – how do you keep the attractive elements and yet reduce your overall costs for the conference.

For this article we’ll look at four of the larger components of a conference; the conference or meeting facility (often the hotel itself), off-site venues, attractions and tours, and transportation.

The conference facility – it’s always a tight balance to schedule your conference dates so that they do not interfere with your attendees busy work schedule. If days of the week or month is flexible for your conference you may want to check with your hotel or meeting facility to see if there are any savings by moving your event to alternate dates. Additionally many times meeting room rental charges in hotels are reduced if you are offering food and beverage. So if you are planning to provide your conference delegates with breakfast or lunch during the meeting times make sure that you work with your hotel salesperson as often times there will be a reduction in meeting room rental if you’re utilizing the facilities food and beverage facilities.

Off-site venues – taking your group off-site (meaning outside of the hotel they’re staying in) is a great way for your group to get a sampling of the local flavor. It’s also a nice break and is often viewed as a social component to the conference. As a savings tip, consider off-site venues that have their own in-house food and beverage facilities. As I stated here many times in the past, venues with their own kitchen facilities will save you a great deal. Quite often you are not charged for service and equipment at these venues. Another option would be to go to an established restaurant. Many restaurants have private rooms for exclusivity. And you can work with different menus to ensure your offsite events is within your budgeted amount.

Attractions and tours – another fun aspect to a conference. I worked with many clients that have wanted to offer attraction and tours to their delegates. Many have asked me to set up a sign-up page where any interested parties can sign up and pay directly for any tours and attractions they are interested in. And before I could start charging individuals for tours, the pricing had to be approved by the client thereby assuring that their guests were getting the best possible deal. If it’s imperative that your organization covers the cost of one tour I always suggest the city orientation tour. City tours are a great way for delegates to get to know the city and it’s also one of the least expensive tours to offer.

Transportation – this is usually one of the first areas that gets cut when budgets are in play. However if you really would like to keep this component to your conference you may want to consider providing a shuttle service from the airport on an hourly or periodic basis. Your cost will be greatly reduced with the shuttle as compared to individual transportation service. And your group will still be happy to see that transportation is still included in the program. Definitely an attraction for registration.

How to plan a conference on a tight budget can be a daunting task. But before you think that all you have to do is get out the chopping ax and eliminate many of your conferences components you may want to think again. There are ways that you can still offer additional conference services to your delegates without blowing your budget. You just need to spend a little time at the onset identifying what makes your conference a draw and then look at creative ways that you can still offer these components.

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