Planning and managing an executive gathering is a complex task for anyone. It’s even more daunting for those who lack event-planning expertise. The to-do list might include an array of items: choosing individual and group transportation, booking hotel accommodations, planning business and social activities, and even selecting healthy menu items. With this much to consider, advance planning is the key to overcoming any hurdles.

While most people agree that planning is critical for a successful gathering, they often don’t realize that a significant part of that process requires knowing and understanding the behavior and preferences of the guests. Simply put, it’s important to determine if the participants are experienced travelers or strangers to the world of executive gatherings. To ensure success, first learn about the history and experience of the group. Then consider how these individuals will fit into the chosen environment.

Case in point: Las Vegas. This city is both a good and a bad destination for business get-togethers. It offers a wide range of accommodations, entertainment and dining options. Unfortunately, these options may act as a diversion, luring inexperienced travelers away from the reason they are there in the first place.

Let’s face it. If the main objective is to ensure that participants attend business meetings and other planned events, they must have enough self-discipline to wake up for an 8 a.m. session without succumbing to the area’s temptations. Much of this can be controlled with careful planning, provided you first get to know and understand the attendees.

Site Selection

Choosing the appropriate location within a city is another important component, and one that ties in closely with participant behavior and experience. While it’s easy to assume that a city’s downtown area is the best place to stay, that isn’t always true. A good rule of thumb is to choose a location in close proximity to the planned activities. For example, if part of the itinerary calls for touring a facility in Worthington, it probably makes more sense to investigate accommodations in that immediate area.

Budget and safety are two additional considerations. Not only is it possible to find less-expensive options away from the downtown area, but having participants stay near their activities also can curb additional travel expenses. At the same time, safety should not be overlooked. Since participants may not be familiar with the surroundings, choose an area that is safe, friendly and easy to navigate.

Consider the number of attendees and the amenities needed. Central Ohio has multiple venues that go beyond the typical hotel ballroom or meeting room. To find something out of the ordinary, consult one of the region’s chambers of commerce. And remember that rates vary considerably and are usually negotiable. It may be easier to negotiate amenities rather than price.

Planner’s Checklist

Whether an upcoming event is the organization’s first or 50th, these tips can help ensure a successful planning process:

• Develop a realistic timeline. Avoid the temptation to over-schedule. Instead, work with transportation providers and venue representatives to create a schedule that isn’t rushed. A jam-packed itinerary wears people out, and once they get tired, the trip is no longer enjoyable or effective. This is especially true of trips that include multiple stops at various locations, such as facility and factory tours. Build in some downtime, and cushion the schedule to accommodate the inevitable surprise, such as an unscheduled stop or a participant who arrives late. And don’t start the day too early if participants are expected to be up late for another meeting or event.

• Determine how to transport participants from the airport and/or central meeting place to the hotel and off-site events. People from other cities, states or countries may not be familiar with the area. Provide solutions for them so that they are where they need to be at any given time, with little effort on their part.

• Choose meals and refreshments wisely. It’s always tempting to serve too much food and drink, but that can be both wasteful and unnecessary. Instead, focus on offering sensible choices. Rather than doughnuts for breakfast, most people prefer more healthful fare such as fresh fruit and yogurt. Likewise, cereal bars and fruit are popular during breaks, along with bottled water. Remember, too, that heavy mid-day meals can make participants sleepy and lethargic.

• Plan the itinerary in advance. This makes it easier to solicit quotes for meeting spaces, modes of travel and overnight accommodations. Inexperienced planners try to obtain quotes before they’ve gathered all the necessary information about dates, times and locations, and are disappointed when they can’t get the information they need.

Keep these things in mind and work with travel, transportation and accommodations vendor-partners, and your next executive gathering is guaranteed to exceed expectations.

Mike Middaugh is president of Dublin-based Coach Quarters, which provides charter motor coaches for corporate and executive outings and regional travel. He can be reached at (614) 738-8889 or mike@coachquarters.com.

Reprinted from the February 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.