Christine Shimasaki, CDME, CMP, is the managing director of empowerMINT.com and the Event Impact Calculator for Destination Marketing Association International. She previously served as executive vice president and chief strategy officer for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, as well as a distinguished career in sales with Marriott.
Think you’re ready to jump, but nervous about taking the leap? Planners considering a transition from a single hotel meeting to a convention center and, perhaps multiple hotels, worry about many unknowns including:
You don’t have to go it alone. Seasoned convention and visitors bureau (CVB) sales professionals in every destination are there to guide planners through the whole process.
Tricia Fleisher Willhide, CMP, CEM, hasn’t made the leap yet, but she’s pretty sure it’s inevitable. When she does decide to jump, she’ll be educated about the process, have trusted partners to assist, and end up looking like a star!
With nearly 2,000 attendees, Tricia’s meeting — the Community Health Institute & EXPO, the annual convention of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) — is limited in the number of hotels capable of providing sleeping rooms and function space under one roof. “Utilizing convention centers would allow us to consider additional destinations and allow for growth,” she observes. The biggest concern about using a convention center? “Losing people: By being self-contained in one hotel, you will run into your friends, acquaintances and colleagues after hours in restaurants, at the coffee shop, in the bar. …When you are using a center and a few different hotels, the networking element becomes at risk.”
The CVB is uniquely qualified to share their comprehensive view of the destination, to help you find the right fit and to navigate the entire process with you.
When Tricia does branch out to include a convention center, the CVB can help ensure that networking opportunities stay alive and well. CVB experts can suggest venues for attendee events that foster interaction, and they can pass on tried-and-true tips: For instance, longer coffee breaks in the convention center and less unstructured time for attendees to go their separate ways can set the stage for mingling and knowledge exchange.
We reached out to Scott White, president and CEO of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, for advice from the destination viewpoint. “A smaller center, like the Palm Springs Convention Center (92,000 gsf of exhibit space), has a lot of experience with groups transitioning out of hotels,” Scott says. “Ask the center for references on other similar conventions and get examples of how previous groups maximized the space and created networking opportunities.”
A convention center convert, Jane Dahlroth, CEM, CMP, director of meetings and exhibits at the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, says exhibit sales have increased by 71 percent and attendance by more than 45 percent since making the move to convention centers beginning in 2007. “Although we never could have imagined the phenomenal growth we experienced when we moved to a convention center, we did anticipate continued growth in both exhibits and attendance and knew a facility would be needed to accommodate and foster the increase.” ACMG overcomes the potential obstacle of limited attendee interaction by choosing a large headquarters hotel and connected convention center where possible, or otherwise keeping the entire lodging and center package within easy walking distance.
Using a combination of hotel and convention center meeting space is not unusual for conventions with a disproportionately large number of simultaneous breakouts, and may be the main reason for incorporating the convention facility into the package.
Expect rental fees for meeting rooms and exhibit space to be considerably higher than the relatively low rental rates and complimentary meeting space when self-contained in a hotel. Scott White explains, “Convention centers do not have the benefit of hotel room revenue and must charge a fee for exhibit space and meeting space. “
Like any of us in a new situation, a transitioning planner may not know what they don’t know; there may be work rules, vendor restrictions and labor minimums in a center that aren’t typically encountered in hotels. “As you research centers, you should ask for pricing on electrical, audio-visual, security (how much is needed), drayage (decorator), Internet connections (usually done via their AV company) any costs to hang banners and anything unique to your group,” advises Scott. “Ask the center how many times they will turn your meeting room. Some centers will only change the setup once and charge a fee for additional configurations. As long as you have all of the pricing up front, you can build these fees into your exhibitor rates.” The more information you have, the better the center staff can work with you on outlining your total costs.
CVB professionals can be invaluable in guiding a client through this unknown territory and, of course, will be instrumental in procuring the best proposals from the hotels and convention center.
In a hotel/center combination, “the meeting planner will have more departments and people to work with,” notes Jane Dahlroth. “In addition to convention services and catering at the convention center, if there are events at the hotel there will be additional contacts, planning meetings and follow-up required.” Even more players may become involved if you branch out to offsite venues. Be prepared for these additional pieces to be added to the puzzle and call on the CVB to reach out to coordinate with the hospitality community on your behalf.
“Depending on the location, you may have to coordinate and communicate with multiple entities,” Scott concurs. “Generally at smaller centers, the convention service manager will be your primary point of contact and assist you with coordinating between the different entities. At larger centers you may work directly with the electrical company, security company, audio-visual company, catering and decorator. If this is your first center booking, ask for a list of items that are important for them to have from you and the CVB team. They know the building and understand what it takes to be successful.”
All the above planners agree that the best first contact is the convention and visitors bureau. The CVB is uniquely qualified to share their comprehensive view of the destination, to help you find the right fit and to navigate the entire process with you. And, because the CVB’s efforts are funded by their local government and stakeholders, there is no charge to the meeting planner. Ready to take the leap? To compare destinations and get connected to more than 135 of the country’s top meeting and convention destinations, visit empowerMINT.com.
As Tricia Willhide concludes, “In a world where I need to do more with less, I need the bureau’s resources and expertise to help coordinate and execute a successful meeting. I can’t do without them, really. …I just don’t have the time for the extra layers of communication that would be required just by having more players in the game.” We couldn’t have said it better. AC&F