estimating event budgets

Estimating Event Budgets: Why Your Venue Cost Comparison Numbers May Be Wrong

You completed a rigorous venue sourcing process for your upcoming conference. You presented a detailed comparison grid of four properties, listing the cost of sleeping rooms, food and beverage, room rental, tax, gratuity, and some other random venue charges, with a nice tidy grand total at the bottom for your boss to make an intelligent decision on which one to book. A week later the contract was signed.

Now you’ve gotten the audio visual proposal from the in-house vendor, and you’ve fallen off your chair. It’s high. Really high. You get comparable pricing from another local vendor and it’s 1/3 less money. You call your venue contact to complain, but, alas, there’s nothing she can do. The contract clearly states you must use the in-house vendor.

Congratulations. You’ve just fallen victim to one of the most common, but avoidable, mistakes made in site selection by novice (and often experienced) planners: Not evaluating the FULL COST of hosting your event at each venue.

Simply comparing the venue quotes is like comparing apples to golf clubs, a totally useless exercise. At the end of the day, when the R.O.I. is evaluated, everyone looks at what you spent on the entire program, not just the venue.


Your venue comparison grid, therefore, needs to show the full cost of hosting the event at each space.  It’s more work, to be sure, and it takes a little longer to put together, but anything else is really flying blind.

Here are a handful of venue-related items that can impact total event pricing:

Exclusive In-House A/V

There’s a big difference between being a recommended vendor, which is optional, and an exclusive one, which is required. When a vendor is exclusive there’s no competitive bidding involved, so there’s no incentive for them to drop their prices.  In addition, exclusive in-house A/V vendors often pay commissions of 30-50% back to the venue. There’s nothing illegal, or even unethical, about that; it’s just business. But with commission rates that high, it can impact the price you pay.

If you’re able to bring in your own vendor, the venue may assess an electrical charge for usage and/or personnel to liaise with your vendor. Be sure to check this in advance, and include in your costs.

Negotiate your A/V costs BEFORE booking the venue, and put the in house pricing into your venue comparison grid. Tell your venue contact that the in-house A/V pricing will be part of their pricing, and often you can get them to lean on their vendor to make sure they are priced affordably.

Plan Events Seamlessly

Built In Production & Décor

Some venues come fully designed to meet your needs, while others are more ‘raw’. For example, if your event needs a stage, a venue with one already built in can save considerable money on several fronts: the cost of renting the staging, the labor to load it in and set it up, and additional time to rent the space to install the stage.

Likewise, if you need to bring in event lighting, furniture or props to give the space a certain ‘look’; you’re far better finding a space that already has those things in place. But if not, make sure those costs are factored in as well.

Travel Costs

If you’re paying for the attendees’ travel, this needs to be accounted for in your venue pricing. Two venues might be priced the same, but if one requires bussing, whereas the other is walkable, that changes the equation.

Early Access for Rehearsals & Set Up

If your presenters want to rehearse, remember that this usually needs to be done once the all the staging, audio, lighting and projection is finished, so speakers can simulate the conditions of their speeches, and the tech team can adjust accordingly. If you want to allocate two hours for rehearsal, that means you’ll likely need the space for two additional hours beyond the setup time needed.

Make sure you factor this into your venue costs. Some venues may throw in the additional set up time for free, whereas others may charge you for eliminating their ability to rent it out for that window.

estimating event budgets

WiFi Costs

WiFi is becoming increasingly critical for meetings and events. Bandwidth, speed, and pricing can vary greatly. Check the costs at your venues and factor those into your pricing comparison. And be sure to look at speeds for both downloading and uploading data. Uploading is often much slower but can be critical if you (or your colleagues, media, etc.) need to upload photos or video clips of your event on site.


Imagine you’re shopping for cars, and you pick the one that seems like the best buy, only to find out afterward that it only takes a very specific kind of gasoline, which is 50% higher than any other gas on the market. And your new car’s gas tank is physically incapable of having regular gas pumps inserted into it. So while your car itself might have been affordably priced, the cost of actually driving that car, it turns out, was not.

You’d never be naïve enough to buy a car like that, would you? Yet planners make the same mistake on a regular basis when choosing their venues. By simply looking at the entire cost of hosting your meeting or event at a given venue, you can insure you’re working with real numbers, and avoid any unpleasant surprises for you and your clients.

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