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Venue finding frustrations: what really bugs event planners

Event planners need a venue team that is responsive and that they can trust to help deliver their event with them. Fostering a good working relationship with the venue team is essential for a successful event and the very first judgement of the team is their response to the initial enquiry.

I recently tweeted about my frustration that a venue was unable to answer my enquiry because their sales coordinator was on annual leave and soon realised, from the response that I received, that other event planners across the globe were frustrated by the same issue.I shared the same post across my Instagram and Facebook pages only to receive responses from event planners in Germany, Kenya, London and Las Vegas all struggling to hear back from venues about their event enquiries.

Pauline Kwasniak, Founder, TurnedSeed, tweeted that from research with hotels and venues that she had done about this issue, “about 90 % said they don't have enough staff to answer enquiries. But big bosses don't necessarily care!” Considering the event industry is based on hospitality and service then this is not the impression event planners should be left with. No matter what the size of an enquiry venues should respond to it professionally. Luckily, the venue team that I was dealing with were only unavailable for a day but other event planners were reporting not even hearing back from other venues until up to a week later or sometimes not at all!

When I attended Lime Venue Portfolio’s Beyond Conference one of the panels discussed what event planners want from the future and I think answering the phone and improved customer service could be added to this discussion. At various industry events that I have attended, trends towards shorter lead times for enquiries have been reported. Therefore, isn’t the need for responsive venues even greater?

Kim Goetze, Operations Manager, Evolve Events commented on Facebook about the venue she had placed an enquiry with if they would just pick up the phone and tell me my date is not available then we can all move on. Now I have to wait and probably chase and might not put them forward to the client because I don't get what I need in time”. Not only is the venue missing out on the business but the client is missing out on potential options. It just doesn’t make sense. Potentially, there is also an impact on wellbeing too due to increased pressure and frustration at not being able to fully complete your job. If wellbeing is going to be addressed within the industry then respecting each others time and workloads has to be part of that.

Offline there was further agreement about how first impressions impact an event planners trust in a venue team:

“First impressions leave a lasting effect; when someone is unable to respond to the simple basics of an enquiry such as date availability, confidence in the venue's capabilities to actually deliver a professional and efficient event diminishes. From an agent perspective, when we have had to repeatedly chase for a response from a venue, we are obviously nervous about putting the option forward for our valued client - we'd rather disregard the venue immediately. Our recommendations are our reputation and we have to be confident a venue can accommodate the requirements AND that they can service the event at every level.” Amy Bewley, Account Management & Implementation Director at Hotel and Travel Solutions Ltd.

This only makes me wonder how much business is being lost. According to Economic Significance of the Events Industry business events generated more than $1.07 trillion of direct spending, representing spending to plan and produce business events, business events-related travel, and other direct spending, such as spending by exhibitors but how much could this increase if more enquiries were answered?

Technology may be able to help to a certain extent but there are challenges around the complicated system of clients holding space on 1st or 2nd option as well as challenges around privacy and GDPR. Skift reported that global hotel brands are beginning to invest in technology

“Now that hotels are buying into the event technology ecosystem, perhaps change is finally on the horizon.” Skift

With change on the horizon for smaller meetings, hopefully venue sales teams will reap the benefits of technology freeing up their time to deal with more complex enquiries and negotiations.

When I am trying to book an event I want to talk to someone to discuss the options. I like to have an email trail to refer back to and confirm agreements but initially I prefer to have a conversation. So many times throughout my career in events I have been told something won’t work, yet following a conversation, an alternative solution has been found that makes the space work. When there is nobody to talk to the sales opportunity could be missed.

For me the improvements that need to be made are on a human level. Training needs to be better across venue staff. Although not everyone can be experts in every area, there should be a basic knowledge across the team so that event planners can have their enquiry dealt with. It makes sense that, when planning staffing and managing holidays across the team, there is always someone available with the knowledge to help respond to enquiries. How much less frustrating would it have been if I had called the venue and the person answering the call was able to check the diary and at least advise if the space was available, even if they weren’t able to quote? I specifically wanted to use that venue but at least if I knew if it was available or not I would have been able to explore alternatives without wasting my time.

Industry experts also agreed: “We all have a responsibility to improve this experience. At venue level, better training for conference and events teams would enable them to deal with the business as it comes in. It could help them to understand their business mix and rate strategies. In fact, this subject came up at the Meetings Show where I sat on an HBAA venue-find panel. My follow-up blog advised venues that it's vital for their people on the end of the phone to know the venue USPs and the venue, inside out! And they need commercial awareness and authority to negotiate pre-contract terms.

"At agency level, a collaborative effort is needed to ensure everyone behaves as the consultants they are employed by clients to be. That includes working with venues in the right way - reaching out to excessive venues for one enquiry doesn't help them manage enquiries. We need to commit more to building relationships and engaging with those venues that we know are genuinely a good fit. It means venues can only prioritise and respond more efficiently.” Julie Shorrock, Managing Director at Hotel and Travel solutions and Chair of the HBAA Agency Engagement Committee

I’m sure some venues already have training and standards in place, especially those that associate it strongly with their brand. Maybe others could learn from them. Maybe some of the associations could set some industry guidelines that everyone could work to. There is a better way to do business and to improve the events industry. Have you had similar experiences? It would be great to hear your venue finding frustrations or any suggestions you might have.

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