A few years ago I attended a MICE event in Singapore. It was a fabulous event, fully supported by the Singapore Government, as growing this business is seen as a big priority for future growth in Singapore. As such, the casinos were approved, featuring extensive conference and exhibition space. In fact, the owners of Marina Bay Sands recently applied to the Government for more land to build more conference and exhibition facilities – so it’s obviously working.
Therefore imagine my surprise these last couple of weeks when practically all encounters with five star venues have resulted in nothing but challenges. I have a simple job to do. I need to book a venue at a hotel/convention centre for a 200-300 person event. As such I’ve been in touch with 10 of Singapore’s five star hotels and it has left me wondering if anyone actually needs the business these days?
Some of the venues have been too pricey so were discarded early on, but the others have no excuse. Many have only responded by email, often sending me a proposal before they qualified me, and only a few bothered to call to make sure they understood my requirements exactly. In some cases, they emailed me and said the venue is not available on the dates selected. If that was me selling event space, I would call the person and say the dates requested aren’t available, but can I suggest a few that are? Most people are pretty flexible around event dates after all, especially if the venue is right.
For example the Hilton replied (on email of course) that the suggested dates weren’t available. As its online query form is so tedious to fill out and I couldn’t put all the dates I wanted in anyway, I called and left a message asking to speak about what dates are available. Two days later I get a message that the venue isn’t big enough. I called back to clarify, because surely the Hilton can hold a decent sized event in its ballroom? Two days later, another voicemail. Sorry Hilton, you are off the list because I need to move quickly and your slow response gives me zero confidence.
Then I get onto the Grand Copthorne. I spoke to one person, made an appointment for two days later, got an email from someone else the next day suggesting I meet them at 2.30pm that day, but as I was out at meetings I didn’t get the email. How about a phone call? I emailed after the meeting and said let’s keep the same time, to which I was told they weren’t available… and on it went. I rarely complain, but I did this time and got a response from the Director of Events, who has been very charming and accommodating. I will probably go with them. The other option (Orchard Hotel) has given me a contact who seems to be permanently on leave and allergic to answering his phone.
I’m almost there. It’s been a two weeks process to get a venue booked and I seriously have much better things to do with my time. If booking a venue is so hard, surely running the actual event there will be even harder? My focus needs to be on important things like, defining the event concept, preparing the marketing content, securing sponsors, securing guest speakers, as well as media/marketing partners – NOT simple logistics like booking a venue.
When looking for a venue partner I don’t think I have unrealistic expectations. I expect them to be professional, responsive, accommodating, creative and open to new ideas. I need them to take work off me, not make me work for the privilege of using their hotel.
So event venues, keep this in mind:
- When people call for an overview of your facilities, if you can’t take the call, call them back the same business day – don’t rely on email
- Make sure you qualify exactly what people need and make alternative suggestions – even one of your partner hotels if you can’t do it
- Get a decent CRM system (like salesforce.com) so once a potential customer has spoken to someone on your team about what they want, they won’t need to repeat themselves with someone else. This goes for meetings too – book it in a central system
- Don’t make people run around after you – take work of their hands. Putting events together is not easy so be responsive and be pro-active
- Gain trust at this point and you will have a loyal event partner for years to come – no one ever does one event
- Treat every lead as a VIP – people love to be appreciated and valued
It’s been a very frustrating process and makes me wonder if all of the hotels in Singapore are making so much money from MICE business they don’t need anymore? I’m sure the bosses won’t agree.
It’s not hard to be good at this, so if you are good, you’ll stand out.
SAJE Pte Ltd.