AS PLANNERS, we all have been to countless meetings and events, and when it is time to read the event evaluations, it’s always nice to hear great feedback from the guests. Of course, most of those guests have no idea how many hours went into planning a successful event: the sourcing, number crunching, agenda printing, deciding which shade of blue is just right and so on. One of my favorite parts of meeting and event planning is on-site operations. There is something magical about it. All of the hard work and planning jumps off the paper and into reality, yet anything can still happen. But with an on-site team of meeting planning professionals, those unexpected requests or changes can be overcome easily.
Early in my career, I never quite understood where these talented on-site meeting planners materialized. They just seemed to show up. Some never meet each other before that day, yet work together as if they have been colleagues and good friends for years. The industry calls them travel directors (or TDs). Travel directors are freelance meeting planners who travel around the world to operate a meeting, dinner event, conference or congress. They are chock-full of skills and can do just about anything. Say there is a problem with the hotel not having enough sleeping rooms; travel directors will work with the hotel to come up with a creative solution just short of building a new wing. They are the first people down in the morning and the last ones to go to bed at night, doing anything and everything to make sure a meeting runs smoothly and successfully. They are a meeting planner’s dream.
"Meeting planning companies use travel directors for a myriad of reasons. If you asked 20 meeting planners, you’d get 20 variations," says Missy Lawson, director of operations for The Lane Group, a boutique meeting planning company located in Fair Lawn, N.J. "Traveling is stressful, even for those of us who do it regularly. Our job as meeting planners is to create a stress-free environment that allows the meeting stakeholders to achieve their goal. To me, this means making things like eating, gathering materials, remembering names, introducing yourself to co-workers you’ve never met in person before, finding meeting rooms, getting rest, etc. come easily. Having travel directors work with me means attendees will be attended to and managed and will have familiar faces to assist with questions and issues. In a nutshell, that’s why I use travel directors," Lawson says.
Travel directors can bring value to a client’s meeting. Their presence allows the meeting planner to focus on the big picture while the travel directors focus their energy on food and beverage specifics, like making sure guarantees are being met, food allergies are being accommodated, etc. Lawson says, "They blend into the background, keep their ears open and a smile on their face. A travel director can hear it’s someone’s birthday or that someone has had a family issue and can funnel that information to me, allowing me to act before that attendee even knows they may need something." This type of valuable service is measurable in on-site cost savings, evaluations and feedback from attendees and the ability to create a memorable experience.
Lawson offered this great example: "When you go to a fast-food restaurant, you order food and eat that food at a table; when you go to a four-star restaurant, your meal becomes an experience. Travel directors take a meeting and make it an experience, and for me and my clients, this skill is priceless."
Jeffrey Cesari has produced hundreds of meetings and special events around the world. In 2001, he founded Shimmer Events, a boutique, full-service agency and certified GLBTBE diversified supplier in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCesari.