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An Event Management Lesson Learned at the Caribe Hilton San Juan

One may assume that attendees at the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education (I-CHRIE) Annual Conference and Marketplace would always experience the best of the best in the hospitality industry because this is the event for hospitality professionals and educators. Unfortunately, it is not necessary the case. Last week, I have shared with you my experience in the conference hotel (Hilton Caribe, San Juan Puerto Rico) and discussed the issues of guest service and satisfaction. Today, I would like share an event management lesson from this conference.

The conference controlled the number of participants to every event with a ticket system, where each registered attendee received a single ticket for a designated function. Last Friday (July 30), I-CHRIE hosted the Award Dinner at the Caribe Hilton, San Juan. The dinner was scheduled at 7pm. Attendees’ tickets were collected as they entered the ball room. Very soon, the room was filled, but there were approximately 70 people anxiously looking for available seats. In the end, the hotel had to set up at least eight extra tables to meet the “unexpected” needs (see Picture 1 & 2).

With so many “unexpected” guests standing in the ball room, it is not difficult to imagine the chaos in the back of the house. Dinner rolls were served after 8pm. Probably, the guests sitting in a table next to me felt they had been waiting for so long that they decided to go out and buy some Subway sandwiches for themselves. At the time when these guests serve themselves Subway sandwiches (see Picture 3), salad was served. When I finished the main course, it was almost 9:30pm. I started seeing people leaving the banquet.

This seems like a simple forecasting issue. While nobody can make perfect predictions, an off about 70 people indicates more than just a small error. It was very ironic, however, that this incident happened in a conference probably with the most hospitality professionals and educators. I hope every person who was in the event or read my discussion will learn something useful. What other event planning mistakes you have experienced? And what lessons you have learned from them?

Speaking of the overall experience with Carbie Hilton San Juan, I wonder why Hilton did not utilize the I-CHRIE Conference as a show-case event to the hospitality professionals and educators. Many people understand the importance of word-of-mouth marketing, and every I-CHRIE member can reach hundreds and thousands of hospitality professionals in their network. Will this be another lesson a hotel can learn from this year’s I-CHRIE Conference?

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