Let’s say you find an old lamp, rub it and a meetings genie miraculously appears, offering you three wishes to make your work life easier. First, cool. Who hasn’t wanted a genie to come along at some point in life?
But more to the point, what would you wish for? Based on what we hear over and over from planners, the three wishes would most likely be for:
The bad news is there are no meetings genies. The good news? CVBs come pretty darn close. Like genies, they can provide planners with what they most want and need. Unlike genies, no random finding of a lamp is required, they don’t stop at three wishes, and they never disappear into thin air.
In fact, CVBs keep giving and giving the longer you partner with them.
Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International, the association of CVBs and DMOs, says planners benefit greatly from CVBs in ways that can’t be duplicated elsewhere — even with genies. He lists the top three benefits for planners who partner with CVBs as a gain in time, money and local authentic experiences to elevate a meeting. These come not from magic but from a CVB’s deep knowledge and experience, and a mandate to help planners succeed.
“CVBs save planners time and money and get best practices from the thousands of meetings that have been held in the destination before,” Welsh says. “Also, a big trend is the community knowledge connection CVBs can provide. While this practice has been prolific for years in Europe, it is becoming even more valuable in the U.S. and around the globe. CVBs can connect planners with leaders in the industry of the groups they represent or even inspirational members of the community who can inject authenticity into a meeting.”
And the benefits aren’t just for citywides and large meetings. “Smaller meetings may benefit even more,” Welsh says. “CVBs can share what they have seen other small groups do. They can also recommend out-of-the-box meeting spaces and experiences that help add that special extra dimension to make a smaller meeting something truly memorable.”
It’s important to note that CVBs and a planner’s independent planner research are not mutually exclusive. Planners can and do learn a lot from researching on the internet, for example, and as they learn they begin to narrow down their destination and hotel choices. But why not benefit from a partner in a potential area, someone who really knows the destination and can provide up-to-the-minute news and highlights? The earlier you start the process, the more positive impact this relationship can have on your planning work and your meeting.
“CVBs can show advantages to a destination that a planner may not have been aware of and wouldn’t find anywhere else,” Welsh says.
That ultimately can help a planner make the most informed choice about where and when to meet. For that reason, Welsh recommends starting the process early. Communication, he says, is key if planners want the greatest benefits.
Destination International’s Christine Shimasaki, who authors a blog connecting meeting planners to DMOs and CVBs, offers an extensive list of reasons planners should form partnerships with CVBs in the destinations where they plan or might plan meetings, including RFP gathering and site selection, vendor connections and attendee marketing, in addition to deep knowledge and experience. For planners who don’t yet take advantage of CVB services, Shimasaki emphasizes that these services are free — and there’s no catch.
They’re free to planners, she says, “because their services are already paid for. CVBs are non-profit organizations that represent hotels, meeting and convention facilities and a host of meetings service providers within a particular destination. Funded primarily by local hotel occupancy taxes, a CVB’s main purpose is to attract tourism, meetings, conventions and events to their destination. Since they really want your business, it’s well worth their while to provide a wide range of complimentary services to help you plan and execute successful events in their cities. So why not take advantage of the free services CVBs are offering?” she asks.
Indeed. It’s in fact critical to CVBs that groups experience highly successful meetings that wow attendees. It’s part of their business structure to facilitate that.
Planners also want highly successful meetings and attendees who are wowed by a destination. It’s a partnership made to order, and CVBs are willing to roll out the red carpet and offer every possible resource so that planners can execute the best possible meeting.
Unlike most things in the world, there really is no downside to planners forging a relationship with CVBs. But the upsides are many.
Nell Nicholas, senior director, global sales, HelmsBriscoe, agrees that CVBs are valuable partners and notes they can be especially helpful at the front end of the planning process.
“I always work with CVBs unless the client knows the very one hotel they want to book at a confirmed destination,” she says. “CVBs offer a wonderful support system for all kinds of programs. One of the key features I appreciate is that the CVB will tell me what citywides are taking place, which is key information so a client can make a determination about changing dates or destination if necessary. And conference-planning tools that CVBs offer really help my clients build out registration. For my larger conferences, the staffing either at the airport or at the hotel offering destination guidance for attendees goes a long way toward an overall happy attendee experience.”
Nicholas says HelmsBriscoe typically has a dedicated CVB representative at many destinations. “This is so helpful. They know our business model and have a clear sense of what we at HB need to accomplish for a successful program in the destination. Of course, I especially appreciate all the assistance with site inspections,” she adds. “It not only takes some of those tasks off my plate, but the CVB staff arranges a tight, efficient, well-planned agenda because they are the experts. My clients always appreciate that connection to the CVB for the added support they require.”
Nicholas points to one specific event for which CVB assistance was critical and which resulted in huge benefits for her client. “Our incentive program was extremely budget oriented and we needed to get creative with offering a ‘wow’ on a tight budget. Meet Puerto Rico, the island’s official convention and visitor organization, offered sponsorship dollars toward this program that afforded us wonderful entertainment and added F&B that we could not have pulled off ourselves. It was a wow for everyone, and the attendees still talk about that opening reception two years ago. Thank you, Meet Puerto Rico, for giving us such a memorable evening.”
For Melissa Jimenez, global events director with Reval, a New York City-based software and cloud-solutions company, her involvement with a CVB depends on the specific event. “If it’s a smaller event or a trade show, I may not meet with the CVB. If I’m working on a larger multiday conference, I make meeting with the CVB a priority.”
That said, she knows that a CVB’s deep knowledge of its destination can make a difference in how an event is ultimately constructed, and she agrees that early connection is important.
“The CVB is a great resource for verifying the information I have put together through my own research,” she says. “Often, you can see on a map that an offsite destination is listed as a 20-minute drive only to discover five minutes into the conversation with the CVB that your date and time of departure would turn that 20-minute drive into 40 minutes with traffic. They know their city well. That firsthand knowledge can only add to the organization and overall execution of your event. The ability to have a local sounding board and to course-correct early is crucial. I will often get flight reports, vendor recommendations and the off-the-beaten-path suggestion for a little-known vendor that might not have a huge web presence but is a local fan favorite. Emily Smith, at the CVB in New Orleans, was masterful at this.”
Then there’s the benefit no planner wants to have to take advantage of but is still glad is available if need be. “Hosting an event with clients and colleagues can come with increased risk and exposure,” Jimenez says, “if, for example, there is large-scale inclement weather, potential acts of terrorism and other contingencies that need to be considered. Having an additional local resource with connections to city agencies and additional vendors is another resource to rely on if needed.”
Jimenez says that the special offers CVBs sometimes provide also can make a difference when selecting a destination. “CVBs will often run discounts or provisions you can take advantage of, such as a discount on a room or airfare. It varies from location to location, but those are particularly nice and I do take them into consideration when selecting a city.”
While CVBs can be excellent partners, there are things Jimenez wishes CVB staff would better understand. “We all have to monetize our functions. Events are our passion but they are also a business. At times, having to keep tabs of ‘who recommended it first,’ be it the CVB, a DMC or the vendor you found on your own, can be exhausting.”
To CVBs she says, “Clearly state your expectation upfront when making recommendations so that there are no communication breakdowns for the planner who is navigating multiple parties while trying to get an event executed.”
Jimenez often works with HPN Global, a company that facilitates sourcing for planners and can help establish the right contacts for planners within CVBs. “If it’s a larger conference, I work with Rick Mandriota at HPN Global, and he always makes sure I get to meet with the CVB during my site visit. He usually screens the best person for me to meet based on my event criteria.”
Blue Janis, a Florida-based national account manager representing Experient, says he always includes the CVB when sending out his RFPs, and believes that CVBs provide a wealth of resources to benefit planners as well as their clients.
“CVBs are typically available for providing or arranging transportation to and from the airport for the client site visit,” Janis says. “In addition, they can give the client an orientation tour of the city, suggest restaurants and offsite venues. CVBs will also provide literature about the city for the client to distribute to attendees.”
In terms of what CVBs offer that planners and clients can’t get elsewhere, Janis echoes Jimenez, noting that special offers can make a difference. “Several CVBs offer financial incentives for groups, ranging from airfare reimbursement for site visits to a certain dollar contribution per room night.”
And it helps, Janis says, to have long-term relationships with CVBs. “Virtually all CVBs from larger cities know Experient — many, in fact, are partners — and are either deployed to Experient or they are deployed to the client’s location. Since I always include the CVB in my RFP, they are automatically assigned.”
One way in which a CVB’s participation in planning a meeting paid off came when a CVB alerted Janis to a potential conflict. “One of my clients had decided on specific dates for its meeting in a large, popular city. When the CVB received the RFP, they called and warned me that those dates conflicted with a large citywide. The client was firm on the dates, so as we discussed alternatives, my CVB rep let me know which hotels were not participating in the citywide and I was able to find a home for my client’s meeting.”
Planners and clients are front and center when it comes to partnerships with a CVB, but Welsh points out that attendees benefit, too, and when a CVB can help make a meeting successful, it’s a win-win for all.
Alluding to the trend of ever more experiential meetings, Welsh says, “People attending meetings now expect to experience a destination.”
No stakeholder is in a better position to make that happen than the local CVB. “This is a chance for CVBs to help a destination shine and make a meeting attendee become a repeat customer who can bring friends and family back to a destination again and again,” Welsh says.
Which brings up another important point: Do planners who have already booked a destination really need the help of a CVB the following year or the year after that when they bring the meeting back? Welsh believes they do.
“Even if a planner has planned a meeting in a destination before, it’s still important to always check with the CVB. Staff at CVBs know what is new in the destination, can flag any current issues and events that may affect a meeting and can highlight new benefits or offerings a planner would not necessarily be aware of. It is not a ‘one and done’ with CVBs,” Welsh emphasizes. “It’s a continual partnership.” C&IT