One of the most challenging things we can do as event planners is to put together an event somewhere we haven’t been. Even if planning events outside your area is what you do, there are the little details of local culture like not taking this street at this time if you want to ever make it to your destination – things people who live there know. I sometimes forget this because I have been in Chicago long enough that when I’m planning an event, I already know these things. However, I remember planning a trip with my best friend to Boston, where we’d never been and suddenly not knowing how far apart the destinations were in terms of walking or driving, what we should do and see – all of it was a friendly reminder of how all of my out-of-town clients feel. We ended up facebook messaging a friend of a friend who grew up there and he told us all the things to do and see and how we could get there. What a relief that was! So if you are a great event planner who needs to be just as excellent somewhere you’ve never been, here are 5 tips to help you do it:
1. Find the Local Convention and Tourism Bureau
Every city has these. Sometimes they are called different things, but they exist. They have great information about the city and are always a good place to start. They can direct you to hotels, let you know what’s going on that time of year and let you know what to expect for the trip. Most likely they will also have a list of vendors they recommend for you to work with which helps reduce your research time.
2. Read Reviews
While most convention and tourism bureaus have vendors, sometimes those are paid. Make sure to do your homework and read reviews to ensure that the services they provide are up to your standards. Also, this may give you the opportunity to find some alternative vendors if needed.
3. Map Everything
Map out your destinations on a directions provider like Google Maps so you can see how long it takes to get places and really get a feel for the size of the city. Just looking at a map tells you where things are but how long are the streets? How much time does it take to get there? This will allow you to plan accurate pick up and arrival times.
4. Talk to Someone Local
Whether it’s the bureau you’ve contacted or the concierge at the hotel, never be afraid to ask some questions about what you’ve planned so far. They may be able to suggest a restaurant that represents the dining culture in the city better than the one that was one of the first 5 restaurants that popped up on your search. Maybe you missed an essential to-do there. Or they can even just affirm that you are awesome and planned all the right things. Either way, it’s good to have that validation.
5. Do a Site Trip
If you can, visit the city prior to the event. I know that not everyone is able to do it but try! This will give you the strongest sense of what to expect. You’ll know what the distances are like, how the venues look in real life (rather than the photoshopped version on their website) and you can be sure that whoever you are planning the trip for is happy with all the choices you’ve made.