Suppose a planner arranges for a group to drive between several restaurants for a dine-around. The planner checks a map to estimate the travel times based on the shortest routes between restaurants.
Upon re-checking with the CVB, the planner learns the times are inaccurate due to slow traffic. The planner also discovers while service is good at each restaurant, some staffs are faster than others.
As a result, the planner makes small but important changes to the group’s itinerary. A simple check with the CVB saved time and increased efficiency.
Partnering with CVBs should be a no-brainer for planners because the organizations function as free, one-stop shops that provide detailed firsthand knowledge of destinations and information databases on a range of local topics. The planner-CVB relationship is the ultimate win-win for both parties.
For CVBs, helping planners to succeed attracts meetings that fuel destinations’ economies. For planners, CVBs function as a cost-free extension of their staffs, helping to organize meeting details, shave expenses and increase time to plan and execute meetings, which all translates to increased value.
The ability of a CVB to help planners obtain value improves the longer a planner works with the organization.
According to Laura Warkentine, chief client advocate for Moore, Oklahoma-based technology firm, Computer RX, “The longer you work with a CVB, you develop a relationship and familiarity with their staff and vice versa. As this happens, they learn your event better, and you learn what is available to you. We have worked with the CVB in Oklahoma City for five years. Each year, I feel something new is discovered that we did not think of in previous years, whether it’s an idea they share from their experience, a service we didn’t know was available or improving small things that could be better.”
Amy Barone, senior director, events and customer engagement for Seattle-based Tableau Software, cites an example of a CVB that did several things from the start of their relationship years ago to assure a long-term partnership in planning meetings, including the company’s recent Global Sales Kick-Off in Seattle.
According to Barone: “Before, during and after each event, Visit Seattle was constantly asking for ways they can support the program and improve their services. They’re constantly asking for feedback and looping in the appropriate parties to make critical changes to better support future programs. These behaviors are constant reminders of a desire to improve and deepen their relationship with us and has created a stronger partnership.”
Barone offers an example of how CVBs can make life easier for planners. “Most recently, we were struggling with options that would fit our needs for our annual company holiday party. The CVB was a wealth of knowledge on venues and upcoming attractions that would be great options for our brand, program goals and our limited budget. They provided direct contacts for each venue, helped facilitate conversations and streamlined the process.”
Tala Baltazar, director, global events and sales enablement for Long Beach, California-based software firm Laserfiche, is finding that developing mutual familiarity with a CVB is a big plus. Laserfiche, which holds its annual Laserfiche Empower Conference at the Long Beach Convention Center, has met there since 2016.
According to Baltazar: “They come to the table as partners when we want to push to be creative, use space in new or innovative ways or want to push the norms of experiences we want to offer our attendees. They never come across as wanting to make a sale or land a program, but truly as partners in the success of our events.”
Baltazar also finds that longevity is a big plus when partnering with CVBs.
“The longer we partner with the CVB, the better they understand Laserfiche as a customer, our company’s values and our mission,” she says. “They help us find solutions that are not only aligned with our objectives, but also fit our specific requirements and company culture. We’re a very customer-centric organization, so it has been key that the CVB get to know Laserfiche’s customers and support our mission of providing the best possible experience for them.”
While some planners use CVBs routinely, others don’t use — or underuse — the organizations. Some planners may not have time to explore what CVBs provide or aren’t aware of the full range of services they provide.
Convention and visitor bureaus are nonprofits that represent local convention centers, hotels and other meeting facilities and venues. CVB services are free to planners because they are funded mainly by a destination’s hotel occupancy taxes.
“The CVB was a wealth of knowledge on venues and upcoming attractions that would be great options for our brand, program goals and our limited budget.” — Amy Barone
About half of CVBs’ members pay dues from sources such as hotels, restaurants, attractions and businesses. The other half of CVBs are government and tax-funded. CVBs stress that there is basically no difference in their services based on various funding sources.
However, some planners have complained that membership CVBs show some favoritism to members over non-members in services such as referring vendors to planners.
CVBs can be valuable to planners meeting in large destinations because of the overwhelming variety of offerings in unique venues, hotels, entertainment options, restaurants and other areas. In addition, CVBs can be helpful to small groups, to planners meeting in a destination for the first time and to independent planners with small budgets and few staffers.
Planners also benefit from CVBs’ thorough knowledge of destinations in every area of meeting planning, including offsite venues, transportation, pre-meeting promotion, site inspections, entertainment, dining options, attractions and staff and volunteers dedicated to a group onsite.
The primary goal of all DMC services: promote destinations to drive meeting business, especially repeat meetings. According to a study by PCMA and IEEE, destination is the No. 2 influencer in whether attendees register for a meeting. Also, about 75 percent of attendees who have a positive experience in a destination will consider returning at their own expense.
Seattle-based Moss Adams, a consulting firm, benefitted in several ways from CVB assistance. According to Stacy Weber, CMP, meeting and event manager for Moss Adams, the local CVB “is my go-to for what’s new, what’s upcoming, what’s being renovated, what meetings and conventions are in town (so I can avoid those dates for my own meetings), ideas on activities, special deals for my attendees, suggestions for venues and putting me in contact with the right salespeople.”
Weber also finds CVBs’ help immeasurable in getting good value from properties.
“They help me with local RFPs and often will suggest a venue that I had forgotten about, didn’t know had been renovated or is opening in time for my event,” she says. “In one case, Visit Seattle was able to explain to a new hotel sales manager the overall volume of business my company does locally, and that resulted in a better proposal.”
Zillow Group, a Seattle-based real estate database company, has found CVBs’ help to be an integral partner in planning the company’s annual Zillow Group Week, which included the company’s 4,000 employees.
According to Toddy Dyer, director of events, Zillow Group, “Whether it be something we can leverage at the Washington State Convention Center, a hotel or even through a vendor that works with them, the CVB is a trusted member of our planning team. We rarely hear no from them. We have had to put our heads together to solve space issues, and with creative thinking, carefully consider how we can leverage space and our budgets.”
Planners need CVBs more than ever because they plan an increasing number of meetings while facing flat or shrinking budgets and pressure to cut costs.
For example, 63 percent of planners have been asked to focus on reducing food and beverage expenses.
As planners grapple with controlling costs, they look for ways that CVBs can provide value. Here are ways that organizations can do that:
They help groups save time and costs when vetting and hiring local vendors. According to Karen Shiba, manager of global events for San Francisco-based Gap, “I was once having trouble getting in contact with a key vendor, and my Visit Austin partner helped to hunt down the person so I could get a response. I felt like I had an advocate on my side.”
Baltazar found the CVB to be a big help in sourcing vendors for an ancillary event related to its conference.
“Instead of tediously searching for and calling each venue, I contacted the Long Beach CVB with specifics of what I needed,” says Baltazar. “They promptly provided me with a short list of venues that fit my requirements (availability, space, atmosphere, distance to convention center, budget, etc.). Because of the fast turnaround, I was able to make a selection quickly and contract with the venue and send invitations for the event within a few days. We were able to pull it together quickly so we could focus on our attendees and their experience.”
They offer special deals — including discounts, rebates and other savings expenses, such as rooms, tours, entertainment or airfare — as incentives to book a destination. The deals may depend on the size of a meeting and its number of attendees. However, navigating such offers can be ethical to ensure there is no appearance of a quid pro quo.
They offer original ideas for planners who seek recommendations for groups that repeatedly meet in destinations.
They help groups create authentic and unique local experiences due to intimate knowledge of their communities.
They provide free promotion of meetings through social media, CVB websites and tailored microsites.
They are constantly adding more free online digital and media services that help planners stretch marketing budgets. Many CVBs offer ready-made online tool kits and social media complete with content, videos and local facts that planners can use to sell destinations to attendees and meeting stakeholders.
In addition, some CVBs produce customized microsites that include information about a meeting’s registration and agenda, along with entertainment and dining recommendations. For example, the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau can create welcome videos tailored to specific groups and promote meetings using several media channels. Visit Orlando makes tailored videos and social content for groups seeking non-theme-park attractions.
One of the characteristics of a truly dedicated CVB is one which can help a planner get improved service from a venue that under-delivered in the past. Warkentine describes such an experience: “We had a year that the venue we were contracting with did not deliver to the normal expectations, and it led to frustration and distraction during our event.
“The CVB could only do so much, but they went out of their way to help as much as they could,” she continues. “The following year, they stepped in early and showed up at the event to ensure the venue was delivering and we were happy. None of our frustrations were related to the CVB, yet, they did all they could in their power to help us out, and it was a great event.”
Experts also offer the following advice on how to get the most out of working with CVBs.
Contact the CVB soon after choosing a destination, before distributing RFPs, and involve it in the planning process from the beginning.
Shiba says, “Engage with the CVB early so they have a full understanding of what you’d like to achieve with your group. The more they know about the attendees and your group, the better prepared they are to offer suggestions, recommendations and marketing opportunities.”
Communicating up front with CVBs has been successful for The Gap. “I find that the CVB had a good understanding of our group and attendees from the initial sales process through the planning process,” says Shiba. “They were able to make valuable recommendations and suggestions because they understood our objectives.”
Consider having the CVB review the RFP before it’s sent to properties to get suggestions for improvements based on the organization’s knowledge of local properties. Planners can also use their research to verify CVB research.
Know which aspects of each meeting and conference can benefit the most from CVB assistance. Every CVB can’t be helpful with every aspect of each meeting or conference.
Conduct an exit interview with the CVB, even if the meeting was successful. This may be especially important if the group plans to return. Ask what the CVB might improve next time.
According to planners who work successfully with CVBs, ask questions such as the following:
Warkentine’s advice: “Don’t be afraid to ask a CVB anything, whether it’s for advice, lessons they’ve seen from other events or services they can help you with.”
Communication is paramount. “I feel the more open you are, the more you will get as far as help,” says Warkentine. “The CVB should be there to ensure your event is a success in their respective city. So anything that could impact that, they will be able to help with or at least know who can help to ensure it’s the best event possible. When you work with multiple cities, you can tell if a CVB is genuinely willing to help you and show off their city. When selecting a city, the quality of the CVB is extremely important and should be considered. Find a CVB that is genuinely interested in you and your event and loves their city.”
Planners who don’t make full use of CVBs should ask themselves one question: Why turn down free help from sources who know everything about a destination, know what planners need and can save time and expenses? Indeed, one way to look at CVBs is that not using them is almost like throwing away money. C&IT