The venue for an event can create the feeling or the soul for that particular entire event. Unusual events create a hint of mystery, or interest for event goers. An unusual locale could mean hosting a corporate function in an aquarium, a cocktail party in a lighthouse, or finding a way to integrate an entire main street into a historical event.

I recently planned an international event on a different scale, in a Central American country that required a completely different level of conceptualization and logistical execution. Our client was an international foundation, planning a festival to celebrate Central American entrepreneurship. None of the large, all-inclusive resorts that the region offered felt like the right vibe. Yet to accommodate all the local, regional, and international guests, we needed a huge amount of space.

The right solution came in the form of a beautiful mountain town in El Salvador (Suchitoto, if you’re curious!) that was experiencing an entrepreneurial Renaissance. Here are four takeaways that you can apply if you’re ever faced with this situation:

Ask the right question when selecting the venue:

When you’re selecting the venue and the venue is an entire town (or the significant portion of one), here are some questions to ask. They are similar to what you’d evaluate in a single hotel or other event venue, but with a twist:

1. How many hotels are in the town, and what’s the room capacity? What’s each hotel’s availability during my event? How would I rate each hotel? (e.g. some may be fine for staff, but not for paying guests)

2. Can I get an inventory of the dining venues in the town? If there’s not a big enough venue to accommodate everyone at once, are there restaurants that can combine efforts for a big dinner?

3. How will security be handled?

4. Is there a local individual that I can partner with to help handle coordination?

5. Who are likely to be the biggest proponents, and who is likely to be difficult to get on board?

6. What historical and entertainment factors are at play here that can help sell the venue to participants and create a memorable experience?

Budget for a local partner:

Regardless of the region you’re working in, whether it’s another country or two towns away, it’s critical to have a local partner. The right local partner is one that will be able to negotiate difficult personalities, anticipate unique opportunities, and be able to help you translate your vision onto the map of the town.

To succeed with your local partner, focus on doing three things:

– Share your vision for your event, and make sure that they understand what’s important to you.

– Make them a full partner, with clear accountability and delineated roles.

– Set very regular meetings before and during the event to make sure that any check-ins are required.

Spend time with each individual stakeholders:

In order for the whole event to come seamlessly together, it’s important that each of the individuals understands his or whole roles.

For example, during our event one of the hotels was set aside for top VIPs. We met with that hotelier to craft a specific kind of experience for them. Another space was set aside for meetings with the contestants; we met with that proprietor to ensure he understood the technology and businesslike venue needs that we had.

It’s more complex that coordinating everything through a single venue meeting manager. So take the time to articulate each mini-venues requirements, and then set aside the time to connect with those people to share that vision.

Acknowledge the unique assets of the town:

Imagine for example that you’re hosting an event on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a beautiful island location with a rich history and local culture that can permeate an event.

Are you giving gift baskets? Consider using Nantucket baskets from the neighboring islands, and filling it with various items sourced from local producers. Are you planning a big dinner? Think about throwing a traditional Cape Cod clambake.

The town will appreciate that these aspects have been acknowledged, and your guests will appreciate that you’ve created an experience that helps them understand the environment you so carefully chose the event.

Renting out an entire town is a bold strategy for an event. There are a number of challenges that can come up during the process. But a bit of planning, particularly by working with local partners, you can have a once in a lifetime event and a great portfolio event on your hands!


Liz Alton's experience in event planning runs from renting out entire South
American towns to planning intimate gatherings for heads of state.She's
particularly interested in the intersection of new technology and event
planning to make events successful, efficient, and fun. Liz is now a blogger, copywriter, and social media strategist based in Boston.
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