Gas prices are rising. According to the Los Angeles Times, gas prices were the highest in the nation yesterday at $3.85 per gallon. Airlines are raising their rates and President Obama is considering tapping into the national oil reserves. With unrest in the Middle East continuing, it is uncertain when gas prices will return to “normal”.
How will this impact meetings and what can a planner do? In general, this will mean that less people will attend meetings because they will be unable to justify the cost. Here are some tips that planners can use to help their attendees take the sting out travel.
- Encourage Your Attendees to book their flights NOW. Even if your conference is in the 3rd or 4th quarter of this year, it will be in your attendees best interest to lock in their rate now. Going to TripAdvisor or Kayak can compare airlines, dates of travel, and the attendee can receive an alert if fares go down. As the event planner, it might be in the best interest of you and your staff to start sending alerts out to the attendees when you see low fares.
- Consider alternate methods of transportation. We Americans only usually travel by air or by car. But there are other ways to get from Point A to Point B, that may be just as economical, but may take just a little more time. I recently found a bus service called Megabus, which has limited service around the US. Consider Amtrak as well.
- Make sure the ROI is sound. When justifying the event or conference to upper management, travel will be a piece of the puzzle. Put a ROI calculator on your website. Email attendees about the calculator. Get the conference services staff involved. One meeting planner recently shared with me that the conference costs were not the inhibitor, it was the travel costs that management wasn’t approving.
- Get creative with Sponsorships and sell more of them. If you think there is any way to lower the registration cost of the conference to the attendee, do it. Consider selling sponsorship space in unique spaces such as computer kiosks and other conference equipment rental units.
- Consider regional meetings. If you think one big annual meeting will not draw the attendees due to rising airline fares, consider breaking the meeting up into 4 or 5 regional meetings. I know this isn’t the optimal solution for association meetings, but it does allow the education and networking to go on.
- Provide carpooling options. Be proactive on your website, in your emails, on your social media outlets, that you will help attendees find carpools. Try creative outreach methods, such as “Is the only thing keeping you from our meeting, the price of gas?” Have interns within your organization call potential attendees and ask if they need a ride.
- Consider Hybrid Meetings. Part-live and part-virtual, hybrid meetings allow the attendee to sit at home or in the office and see and/or participate in the event. Many event planners are already planning hybrid meetings for 2011, but the demand may increase if gas prices continue to rise.