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Decision Making-Virtual Site Inspections

Last year I wrote an article about “How To Do A Virtual Site Inspection”. It pointed out the tips and tricks gained from being an attendee on virtual site inspections all over the world. Over the last two months, I find myself going on more virtual site inspections than ever before. It occurred to me that my recent Virtual Site Inspections are very different than the ones previously attended. The purpose of the most recent Virtual Site Inspections are to make the decision. Prior to Covid 19, the purpose of the Virtual Site Inspection was to determine if a hotel made the short list & qualify for an in-person site inspection. With Covid 19 and the inability to easily hop on an airplane to do site inspections, the stakes are higher and have more meaning for virtual site inspections. Decisions are being made quickly after virtual site inspections. It’s likely, this may be the only time we see the hotel before arriving for the program. Therefore, I need to update the original virtual site inspection article with some recent findings. The tips and tricks below are what I've discovered over the last few months when doing a virtual site inspection to make a decision.

Wear earbuds or headphones.

Background noise in a hotel is loud and intrusive on these types of sites. We need to consider lobby music, guests talking, waterfalls, fountains and our own background noise such as dogs barking, phones ringing, etc. We can’t always hear the hotel person on the other end & the hotel person can't always hear our questions. It's good for both parties to be wearing earbuds or headphones. This way each side can hear all questions and answers & block out all forms of background noise.

The Roving Reporter Technique.

One hotel did a great job using a "Roving Reporter" technique. As the salesperson walked from space to space, he "threw" us to different parts of the property. I don’t believe we ever saw him walk. While he took his journey from the pool to the presidential suite, he “cued” the AV person in the ballroom to be on screen to talk about ceiling height, production and rig points. Then, the AV person “threw” it back to the salesperson who was in the Presidential suite. The salesperson then “cued” it to the Spa Director who was in the spa talking about their wellness program. This felt very much like an educational news broadcast. I loved it. It moved fast and kept us interested. The preparation the hotel put into that virtual site inspection illustrated that the hotel could deliver a conference with high service standards.

Have A Dedicated Camera Person & Emcee.

One hotel did an awesome job at having one person "own the call." He served as the "emcee." Although he wasn't on property, he guided us through the site while the camera person showed us what the salesperson was explaining. Another hotel had an equal counterpart holding the device, while the salesperson did the tour. I appreciated the product knowledge the camera person had about the property for 2 reasons:

1. The person holding the camera was able to quickly answer questions while the other person was walking to the next spot on the tour.

2. The person holding the camera understood what the salesperson was explaining so he panned to all the right visual elements that matched the verbal description. I've been on a couple virtual site inspections lately where the salesperson is explaining something and the camera person is pointing the device to the floor, the ceiling or something completely different than what is being explained. Having a separate person running a device than the person running the site makes it better.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Vanna White. I actually met her when I did a summer internship for a production company where she filmed the Easy Glider Infomercial. She is a very nice lady who likes fresh flowers with ice chips in her dressing room and provides White Castle burgers to the crew at 3:00 PM. What I mean about "Don’t Be A Vanna" is, don’t just turn the letters. We are now doing virtual site inspections to gather an abundance of decision-making information at one time. We have to hang up the call and have enough information to pick a venue. We rely on our hotel partners to be more than the person holding his/her hand out waving us around the hotel. I love it when a hotel can tell a story on a virtual site that guides us to a decision by the end of it. Some of the best virtual hotel site inspections have been the hotels that ask the buy factors in advance & weave those into the virtual site inspection. When a hotel can answer questions on the spot about: ceiling height, updated renovations, Mbps and updated Covid stats for their county, it makes the buying decision so much faster for us. When a hotel is just turning the letters it's not the best use of all of our time. Conversely, as planners, we can't be a Vanna either. I like to send the hotel a hit list of things we want to see and concerns in advance. That way the hotel can plan accordingly and address all relevant issues on the call.

Know when we’re going to lose you.

We assume we'll get dropped when getting into an elevator. Only the hotel knows the inner workings of the internet service restrictions inside each property. If a hotel knows that the internet service will change when we walk from the meeting space to the pool, then give us a heads up. One hotel said "I am going to be silent while I walk through this corridor because the reception won't be great. Take a look at these two photos of the guest rooms we're about to see. I'll see you in the room in one minute." She popped up a couple of pictures of guestrooms on the screen. While she took her journey off camera to the guestroom, it gave us a head start to develop a couple questions. Once she got to the room, she was able to quickly answer and it covered that awkward silence/pause of the corridor.

Use a reliable device & service.

Everyone's device is different and reacts differently to these virtual site inspections. For example, my laptop likes Zoom calls, but always fritzes out on GoTo meetings. My speaker sounds different on TEAMS calls on my laptop vs my phone. We all have our technology limitations. Figure out what is best for you and make the suggestion to use that medium for the call. For the most part, everyone can use a variety of platforms, but be sure to talk about it before the virtual site tour so everyone on both sides is on the same page. Virtual site inspections drain batteries for all of us. I've been on a couple virtual tours where we had to suspend the site inspection in the middle because the hotel's device ran out of charge. The shuffle to find a new device caused us to have to reschedule the call. Finding a time where all our schedules aligned was tricky and a risk for the hotel. If hotels have time prior to the call, test your device in all parts of the property so you know when things might get fuzzy. One hotel tested their device with different people using different devices on the other side so we can be warned of tech issues in advance. Any tech tip that can be given before the virtual site is helpful.

Involve People That Bring Value.

I know this contradicts my previous post about no dog and pony shows. At this moment, most clients do want to hear from the general manager. They want to know how she/he plans to keep attendees safe with hotel specific sanitation and safety plan. We like to hear the convention service manager's thoughts on social distancing set ups and how food service will be handled. We like to know if your onsite AV team can handle the tech capabilities of a live/hybrid meeting and what they’ve seen other groups do for virtual meetings. I love it when hotels have the team waiting in specific spaces for us to do a quick cameo. One hotel had each person watching the site from the beginning and when it was their time to be on camera, they answered previously asked questions from earlier in the site. This made their cameo even more relevant and valuable. Pro Tip: Having more than two people on the camera in the same shot/screen at one time gets confusing and is very hard to hear. Try to limit to 1 or 2 people making a cameo at the same time.

I could ramble on about virtual site inspections all day. I am still learning more about how to get the most out of a virtual site inspection with each one I attend.

If you want to talk more about your next virtual site inspection or hear up to date war stories about my recent virtual site inspections, reach out to me anytime.



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