Conferences take one of two major tacks in choosing a host city: stay in the same location or move each year. We at Zephyr Conferences have chosen to move each year.
While that brings distinct advantages to our audiences (especially getting to see new food, wine, and beer regions) it brings with it a lot of additional work. Finding new host locations is a major part of running our five annual conferences.
In searching for host locations, our first criteria is that the city or region is related to our subject matter, which is wine, beer, or food. We just can’t run a wine conference in an area not well known for its wine, can’t run a beer conference in a city without a substantial number of local breweries, and won’t run a food conference in a city without a vibrant restaurant, chef, and food producer scene.
We then have a second decision to make: do we pick a larger city that has easy plane access but often comes with higher costs or do we pick a smaller, regional city that usually comes with lower costs and more support but is also harder to reach. The answer is we evaluate both types of host cities and weigh the pros and cons each year.
We never approach a hotel directly but, instead, always work through the local Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), winery association, or brewery guild. Almost all DMOs are set up to send out solicitations to their hotels and to provide basic tourism information but, to be honest, that is not very useful to us. If we were looking for a hotel, we would just research and contact them ourselves.
We always create our own Request for Proposal (RFP) related to each conference. Sometimes we send out a notice to many DMOs, winery associations, and brewery guilds asking who might be interested to host a conference. Other times we have 5 – 10 key potential locations (on a long list we keep for each conference) and send RFPs just to those. Other times we already have contact with a prime location and work one-on-one just with that local host.
Working With Local Hosts
In working with a DMO, winery association, or brewery guild the most important criteria is whether they take the time to address us individually. In our experience, most DMOs around the country are outstanding. They are well funded, have quality staff, and take the time to respond to our inquiries. Winery associations and, even more so, brewery guilds usually have less funding and thus fewer staff, making them less able to respond to us.
But in general, all these organizations do a good job. What is different, however, is how much they really care about our conferences. The reality is most big cities are full of huge conferences, don’t really need us, and aren’t ready to offer anything beyond basic support. We find that smaller, regional cities are usually much more interested in hosting us and promoting themselves as a wine, beer, or food destination. (Interestingly, back in 2008 – 2010 during the heart of the Great Recession, big cities were more apt to provide help. Those days might return.)
Ultimately, the success of a local region often boils down to one individual who want to bring a conference to the area and takes the time to get involved in the process.
What We Ask
Three of our five conferences include an audience composed of media (beer, wine, and food) and so bring inherent advantages to the host location. The other two bring in industry leaders to discuss wine or beer marketing and tourism, topics for which many regions wish to be known.
We thus recognize we have different conferences from the norm – perhaps a company annual meeting or industry trade group convention – and also have different requests of our local hosts. These involve working with us to engage in marketing, helping us with alcohol pouring permits, rallying local industry involvement, and providing financial support.
As just one example, at our International Food Blogger Conference we have a “Taste of” event in which 10 – 15 local restaurants come in to serve their best food items to our blogger, media, and social media influencer attendees. This is a win for attendees and the local restaurant scene but is difficult for us to arrange without the support of the local DMO.
Getting in the Pipeline
If you are interested to host one of our conferences, we suggest one of a number of steps:
- Fill out our Host Application.
- Attend the conference you are interested to host. This is an important step as it gives you more information on the conference, gives us the ability to meet you, and makes it clear you are committed. Many, many of our choices in the past have been influenced by having met someone at our conference who subsequently submits a host application.
- Complete the RFP. When we do send out RFPs for hosting, consider filling it out even if you are not quite ready to host. We often receive multiple quality bids to host a conference and often will select one location for the year in question but another location for the following year. Determining a host is usually a multi-year process.
- Talk to us: If you have questions about hosting a conference, let us know. We can assess your region and talk through potential solutions, such as partnering with another nearby region or seeking a grant.