Dear Event Doctor:

What do you consider the key components of a successful  hospitality program? We are planning one main tent at our event but are struggling with exactly who should be—and who will expect to be—invited. Should it be open just to sponsors? What services should we be providing?

—Thanks for the Hospitality

Dear Hospitality:

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to an event’s hospitality strategy. The answer depends on the objectives of the event and your organization. While sponsors are indeed the typical invitees to a hospitality pavilion, how many passes you provide depends on the situation. Are you hosting only the guests who are most important to you, or are you also providing hospitality to guests who are the most important to your sponsors?

Many sponsors become involved with events to provide a premium entertainment experience to their own customers, clients, distributors and dealers. Those who are not hosting their own exclusive, stand-alone hospitality area on-site will be looking to you to provide it, whether as a feature included in their sponsor entitlements or on an at-cost basis.

It is not uncommon for hospitality guest lists to include local government officials, celebrities, alumni athletes and other influential people. Their presence adds to the prestige of receiving an invitation. Know that hospitality guest lists can be political quagmires—the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Pore over the list carefully so as not to offend politicos and other people of influence by not inviting them. Ensure that the invite list includes anyone who has been helpful to the event or who has the potential of being helpful (or harmful, for that matter) in the future.

How a hospitality program should be physically designed also varies by event. Outdoor events should offer shelter from rain, sun, wind and uncomfortable temperatures, but also have outdoor areas for the enjoyment of nice weather (or tent walls that can roll up and out of the way). Keep your guests hydrated with water and soft drinks. Beer and wine are common for non-youth events. Whether to offer other types of alcohol—well, that’s up to your budget, your image and the level of hospitality you wish to provide. Make sure you hire bartenders who are trained to spot guests who have had enough. Food that is appropriate to the time of day—even something as basic as light snacks—is a must. Always ensure your food and beverage selections are respectful of your sponsor relationships.

I like to add a commemorative item that is available only to the most important guests. It might be a special cap, pin or ticket lanyard that allows them to identify themselves as VIPs. Note that none of these items is large or has to be carried by hand.

Oh, and one last detail: Always invite The Event Doctor.

This first appeared in Sports Travel Magazine and appears here courtesy of SCHNEIDER PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC.