How destinations and venues can improve their chances of attracting association clients

20th May, 2016

Meeting planning has always been one of my favourite responsibilities as an association executive. I love hearing how much my members (of the Chain Link Fence Manufacturers Institute, or CLFMI) enjoy our meetings, and am thrilled that our attendance has remained so high even through some difficult economic times. What I don’t always like is the site selection process.

Mark Levin, CAE, CSP, reports

Mark LevinI know many meeting planners really like the royal treatment they get on their site inspection trips, but I travel all the time so when I had to travel recently from our Washington, D.C. Headquarters to make a final selection for one of our future meetings I wasn’t thrilled, but it was something I had to do.

I had appointments set up with the sales managers at the three hotels we were considering and had hoped to see all three in no more than a day or a day and a half at most. When I arrived at the first hotel for my morning appointment, the sales manager greeted me and we exchanged cards, and she said, “Mr. Levin, thank you so much for considering our property and coming all this way. I have your meeting specifications and think our hotel would be perfect for your association annual meeting. Let me show you around.”

So we toured the hotel, and in all honesty it was a lovely property that would easily be a good choice for my group. I was glad that after the first property that I would have tan adequate option. She asked if I had any questions, and I told her nothing major and that I would get back to her.

I went off to my second appointment and it was basically the same routine and knew instinctively that this property, too, could be a good match for our group. I am such an impatient person that I was thinking I might be able to tour the third property quickly and get a flight back home that same night instead of staying overnight. I called the sales manager and asked if we could meet a little earlier.

When I arrived at the last property the sales manager came out to greet me, we exchanged cards, and I was ready to get started. Then she said, “Mr. Levin, thanks for coming all this way. I got your meeting summary, but before we tour the hotel could we sit for a few minutes and just chat?”

So much for catching the late flight. I was pretty tired by now so it wasn’t worth rushing. We sat down and ordered some coffee, and then my trip – indeed, my whole outlook on effective venue-association relationships – changed.

The sales manager turned and said, “Mr. Levin, I just wanted to ask you one question before I show you the hotel. If you chose our hotel for your meeting, and today were the last day of that meeting and your members were leaving to go home, and they were saying ‘I think this is the best hotel we’ve ever used for one of CLFMI’s meetings,’ what would they be talking about? What would have made it ‘the best’ for them?”

To be honest, it was an easy question to answer because I knew my members pretty well after 20- plus years as their Executive Director. So I started going down my list;

“Well,”I said, “the first thing they would have noticed were the lines at check in. They hate to have been traveling all day to get to our meeting and then have to wait in long lines to get into their room. Then they’d notice the signage-how easy is it to get around the property. They really get frustrated in hotels where they have to ask directions all the time. As international business people, they also need 24 hour room service, and they don’t like getting charged huge fees for high speed internet connections and then get restrictions on where in the hotel they can use it.”

I kept going on and on for a few minutes telling the sales manager what my members liked and didn’t like when attending our meetings.

I saw her taking some notes, then she said, “Mr. Levin, if that’s what your members expect at one of CLFMI’s meetings, then I think our hotel would be a great match for you. Let me start by introducing you to our Front Desk manager, and he can explain what we do when our registration lines start getting backed up.”

Guess where we held our meeting?

Properties, destinations, venues, exposition centers and other industry partners need to realize that in today’s world it is truly a buyers’ market. Buyers have all the options, all the information, and all the communications technology they need to find out about you. What’s important is what you find out about them. I believe the number one skill meeting industry professionals need to have if they want to do more business with the association community is the skill of asking the right questions.

It isn’t about you. It isn’t about the venue, it isn’t about the destination, it isn’t about the convention bureau. It’s about the client. If association clients feel that you truly understand what their priorities are, and you can help them create the best experience for their attendees, you have a competitive advantage over everyone else. Getting information on a Client Profile form is the start, not the end, of the job. Asking the right questions will get you where you want to go.

Mark Levin, CAE, CSP has three decades of experience as an association executive, and is also an internationally-known speaker and consultant to the nonprofit and association community. He currently serves as Executive Vice President of the Chain Link Fence Manufacturers Institute, an international trade association, and as President of B.A.I., Inc., his speaking and consulting firm. He can be reached at or via his website at

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