Budgeting and attending at least one small business conference a year is a good goal for every entrepreneur. One of the biggest costs when calculating how much will it cost to attend small business conference is lodging, especially if the conference is over multiple days. While the event organizers will typically have negotiated a group rate to stay at the conference hotel, you may find the nightly rate is still be too high for your budget or liking. Alternative choices to booking the official conference hotel may include staying at a friend or relative’s house that is near the conference, staying at a cheaper off-site hotel, or booking an Airbnb. While it may save you a lot of money to not stay at the event hotel, I am a huge advocate for always staying on-site at the conference hotel. I’ll share benefits versus lessons learned from those who went off-site, proving why it’s worth saving up the money to afford staying at the conference hotel.
7 Benefits for Staying On-Site:
1. Time: Save time with zero commute. You don’t have to deal with traffic and look for parking.
- Example: Caitlin Johanna, founder of Caitlin Pyle, will always pay to stay at the conference hotel, even if she’s local to the area. She lived 30+ minutes away from the hotel at FinCon18, but she chose to stay at the Rosen Shingle Creek hotel because “that is valuable time I want to spend AT the conference WITH people…not in the car alone.”
- Example: John Abel tried both off-site and on-site for FinCon18 in Orlando and even quantified the difference. He shared, “I spent two days off site, and two days at Shingle Creek. When I was at Shingle Creek I loved the ability to just go take a nap and not have to pay for an Uber for it, or lose too much time. I think staying on-site is worth $50/day to me in extra cost.”
2. Convenience: If you forget something, you can just walk back to your room.
- Example: FinCon veteran, Doug Nordman from The Military Guide, says that “we’ve stayed in the conference facility for all of our FinCons. The time & convenience is worth far more to us (personally) than the money. We travel-hack enough in other areas to make us feel the balance.”
- Example: Andrew Wang from Runnymede Capital Management, Inc. shared that as a speaker, “the convenience of being able to go down the elevator with my laptop or back to my room if I forgot something was worth it. Even recorded one podcast interview in my room where it was quiet, away from the conference hustle and bustle.”
3. Re-charge: Can take quick breaks and naps to re-charge as needed.
- Example: Jessica Garbarino from Every Single Dollar stays at the conference hotel and shared, “ My whole reasoning for staying at the host hotel is that I had to rest throughout the day due to my autoimmune condition. I realized this year that staying offsite is not really an option for me as I need to be able to take a nap during the day just to make it through the day. The energy level needed for a conference like FinCon requires a lot of rest for me or else I burn out!”
4. Networking: Maximize networking opportunities and take advantage of the unofficial networking in the lobby and hotel bars.
5. Focus: When staying on-site, you’re less likely to be distracted by other priorities and can focus on just the conference.
6. Safety: Can drink at the hotel parties and lobby bars without worrying about driving or walking late at night.
Note the 6-packs of craft beer in the corner from the FIRE hotel party.
7. Costs: Keep conference fees low by ensuring the organizer meets the minimum required rooms. When negotiating the group hotel rates, the organizer takes on risk. If the minimum number of rooms aren’t met, the event organizer must eat the cost. This may mean higher prices for the following year’s conference to make up the costs.
7 Lessons Learned From Conference Attendees Staying Off-Site:
- Safety: Make sure you understand how safe it will be to walk to and from off-site hotel, especially at night. While the Airbnb or other hotel may look like it’s just across the street based on Google maps, there may not be cross walks and lights, making safety an issue.
- Uber costs: Make sure you budget for transportation to/from the conference, especially late at night or if you’re carrying heavy boxes of vendor swag.
- Tip: While you may plan on walking to/from your off-site lodging to the conference, consider the weather and time of year. People were complaining about the heat in Florida in mid-September at the most recent FinCon, so if walking outside in 90+ degree weather plus humidity is not your thing, you may want to re-consider your lodging or factor in Uber costs.
- Convenience: The convenience can be worth the additional costs, especially for conferences that start early in the morning and go late into the evening. Also, consider the baggage and extra weight that you’ll have to carry around all-day if you collect swag and want to keep snacks, laptop, and notebook on-hand.
- Example: Jennifer McDermott from finder.com shared, “when you’re not staying on site of the conference, when you leave of a morning you’re out for the day. This means no quick change of clothes if you have a spill, no picking up a forgotten charger and no sneaky naps in between sessions.”
- Example: Jeff Proctor, owner of DollarSprout stayed at the Econo Lodge for only $43 a night versus $159 per night at Rosen Shingle Creek, but he can definitely see the value in staying at the conference hotel. He shared, “Spending 12 hour days at the conference center with no down time was definitely more taxing on me than I anticipated it being.”
- Commute / Traffic – consider the traffic, especially if you’re not from around the area. If bad drivers and being stuck in traffic can easily put you in a bad mood, this may not be a great way to start and end each conference day. Also, while on the map it could look like your off-site Airbnb is close and right across the road, factor in additional time to park and walk up the path to the lobby.
- Example: Richard Carey from Rich on Money stayed off-site two years ago at FinCon, and shared “I was totally annoyed with my commute, inability to run back and forth to my room like others, and missed networking opportunities.”
- Example: Leisa Peterson with Art of Abundance with Leisa Peterson shared, “I’ve stayed off premises in the past and the extra stress of dealing with transportation wasn’t worth the savings for me this time around.”
- Additional Transportation Costs – remember to add up additional costs to stay off-site to determine if you are actually saving money, including:
- Example: I once went to a 3-day conference in NYC and someone accidentally booked an Airbnb in New Jersey!?! He was trying to be a good sport about it, but his commute time was 30 – 45 minutes each way and it cost him $15 each way on the NJ Transit. That was easily an extra $90 in transportation costs that weren’t accounted for in his conference and travel budget.
- Tip: If you know in advance that you will driving long distance to attend the conference, let the organizers know. Beau Humphreys, with Invest Wisely, let the FinCon organizers know nine months in advance that he would be driving 40 hours from Canada to Orlando for FinCon18, so they arranged for him to get a hotel parking pass!
- Guilt – If you choose to stay with a friend / family member who lives near the conference or stay off-site because you brought the kids, you will likely not focus 100% of your energy and time on the conference and networking.
- Example: Dan DeLiberty stayed offsite for FinCon18 because he had his family, and jokes it was a bit of a disaster. He shared that “The resort/timeshare/extended stay type place we rented was good but wound up being close to half hour drive (with rental car) to the conference hotel or $45 round-trip Uber drive. Plus FinCon goes long each day and starts early. So my attention was divided because my kids wanted me back with them which of course makes one feel guilty.”
- Fear of missing out – FOMO is very real.
- Example: Jennifer McDermott from finder.com shared, “With so many fantastic speakers, panels and exhibitors going on at FinCon, FOMO is omnipresent. This is even more apparent when you are staying offsite and photos of the fun you’re missing out on start flooding your newsfeed after you’ve left for the day.”
- Example: Wendy Juvenal Mays, co-host at House of FI, found an Airbnb that was only $75 per night (which she split with a roommate), but as a first-timer at FinCon, she shares, “I do feel like I missed out on some of the mingling. I’d like to stay at the hotel next year to see if it improves the experience.”
If You Choose to Not Stay at Official Conference Hotel
The overall consensus from attendees who have stayed off-site at conferences? FinCon18 attendee, David Joseph Pere with From Military to Millionaire, shares, “Don’t do it! After parking fees, gas, and hotel, I saved $10 – $20 a night. Totally not worth the networking I would have been able to do late at night, being able to drink a few beverages, and missing out on that awesome hotel!”
If you’re a vendor for the conference, take that into consideration the amount of swag and transportation costs if staying off-site. Jennifer McDermott from finder.com said that while staying at an Airbnb was the best option for the team given the amount of boxes and suitcases, on the map, “the Vista Cay appeared right across the road from Rosen Shingle Creek and while this was technically accurate, it didn’t take into account the 10-15 minute walk up the path to the lobby. Between the heat and the amount we had to carry, walking wasn’t possible so we had to order Ubers to take us to and from which bumped up time required to get there and added expense to our budget.”
Also, consider the location and city of the conference. Allison Tom with Retire by 45 shares, “At a site like Orlando, where everything is so spread out, staying on site may be more beneficial, because there’s not as much to do close by. Whereas in DC, things are more within proximity to the conference.”
Comparison: Examples of Detailed Costs to Stay On-Site vs. Off-Site:
Since I recently came back from the annual FinCon conference, I’ll share a comparison of costs for those who stayed at the conference hotel vs. off-site. (*Note: FinCon18 Rate – $159 per night, with normal rate ranging from $250 – $300 per night.)
Total Costs vs. Cost Per Night:
- My Hotel Stay – stayed at conference hotel, no roommate
- Pam Edwards drove down from NC with her husband, and stayed at Marriott resort.
- Tawnya Redding with Money Saved is Money Earned stayed off-site at the Four Points with points, but had a car rental.
- Liz Gen of Chief Mom Officer – stayed in Airbnb for 5 nights (walkable) with 3 other people. She split a room.
- Jennifer McDermott & 3 of her finder.com colleagues (total of 4 people) – stayed in an Airbnb for 5 nights across the street for total of $1,000, but had to Uber to/from conference. Numbers reflected is average cost per person.
- Lee Huffman with BaldThoughts – drove down from TN and stayed in timeshare for 7 nights with his family of 4 and 1 – 3 colleagues. Had wife drop off and pick up most of the time, and took Uber twice.
- I was so sleep-deprived coming into the conference, it was nice to not have a roommate that could have potentially woken me up late at night or early in the morning since I’m a light sleeper.
- Pam Edwards shared, “It was worth it to us to save a bit of $, because we need to at this point. In DC, idk. We would make a decision again based on price. As an aside, for us, hanging out doesn’t seem to be a function of where we are sleeping.”
- Tawnya Redding shared, “I think if you can use points, staying off-site is the way to go. You’ll also save money on food off-site, as resort/hotel food is ridiculously expensive.”
- Liz Gen shared that the only advantage to the Airbnb was the cost – only $100 for all 5 nights (plus walkable). However, disadvantages included, “the long, humid, slightly dangerous walks to and from the hotel and not having a home base in the hotel to rest/recharge/store snacks.”
- Jennifer McDermott shared that given the amount of swag and heat, she and her colleagues ended up using Lyft at $7 – $8 each ride to go back and forth between the Airbnb and conference hotel. That was about $80 in additional transportation costs that wasn’t in the original budget.
- Lee Huffman is quick to point out that, “This obviously does not include the cost of buying our timeshare or our normal annual dues. But, you can rent timeshare weeks from sites like Endless Vacation Rentals for $100/night or less depending how far out you book. The closer you get to the dates, the more the price will drop so the inventory doesn’t go unused.”
Summary: Why You Should Stay at Conference Hotel
I’m a huge fan of staying on-site at the official conference hotel, especially given all the benefits and lessons learned from those who have stayed off-site. Splitting a hotel room with a friend(s) or colleague(s) can make it very affordable, cutting the costs in at least half. If you’re new to the conference or late to sign-up and hotel is sold-out, check to see if the conference has a sign-up sheet to help pair off people looking to share a room or post to the group’s Facebook page.
The pros and cons of the decision to stay at the official event hotel can vary depending which type of conference attendee you will be – if you are a newbie, vendor, speaker, event organizer, or will bring family. Philip Taylor, the founder of FinCon, provided insights that I had never considered, recommending attendees to stay onsite “to support the organizer who takes all the risk, negotiates the amazing rate, helps folks pair up for room share, and who desperately needs to meet a certain number of rooms to keep some of the other event costs down.”
If you choose to not stay at the official conference hotel, remember to factor in the additional transportation-related costs including Uber/Lyft costs, hotel parking, rental car, gas, and tolls. Lastly, make sure you won’t have any regrets and feel left out when you start seeing all the late-night photos and group postings if you decide to not stay at the conference hotel.
What do you choose to do for conferences – stay on-site or look for cheaper options off-site? I’d love to hear your pros and cons. Share your thoughts in the comments!
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