While CVBs are in the hospitality industry, the term “hospitality” may not encapsulate the full palette of services they offer meeting clients. Going well beyond providing friendly, logistical service to incoming groups, CVBs are often strategic partners in event promotion and design. Indeed, creativity and resourcefulness in these areas is a way of standing out among competitor bureaus that all offer similar basic services, such as housing, registration and volunteer support. Both event promotion and design are also vehicles to express the city’s unique character to attendees, and there are no better consultants on local culture than CVB staff. The best CVBs can translate that culture into events that align with a client’s corporate culture and enlist local partners to realize that vision.
A prime example is the work of the Indianapolis CVB, whose senior convention services manager, Roberta Tisdul, CMP, recently helped customize an offsite event for one of Grapevine, Texas-based GameStop’s key vendors. The event was part of the August 2018 GameStop Conference. Tisdul first took the GameStop planner and vendor on a tour of several venue options. The planner opted to do a food truck block party on the event promenade just outside the Indiana Convention Center. Tisdul also brought in Accent Indy, a local DMC, to help execute the event, which followed the “festivalization” trend.
“We have been incorporating festivalization more and more into our culture to create organic and socially dynamic attendee interactions with our sponsors,” explains Samantha Vogel, CMP, senior manager, meetings & travel, GameStop. “Knowing our culture, Roberta helped us source a DMC that could take our GameStop vision and incorporate our sponsor’s vision to design a one-of-a-kind festival atmosphere that thrilled our attendees and sponsor. Client service from CVBs like Visit Indy that go above and beyond logistics, instead truly immersing themselves into client cultures, helps planners take their events to the next level.”
“Client service from CVBs like Visit Indy that go above and beyond logistics, instead truly immersing themselves into client cultures, helps planners take their events to the next level.” — Samantha Vogel, CMP
That kind of service also takes “Hoosier Hospitality” to the next level and is part of the reason GameStop is returning to Indianapolis in 2020.
Finding an event venue that fits all of the client’s parameters and symbolizes the city can be challenging, and thus, an opportunity for a CVB to really shine.
Visit Jacksonville begins this process by collecting key data. Last year, a technical/engineering group client of the CVB was looking for an offsite venue that accommodated 200 to 225 attendees and was “unique to the city of Jacksonville and spoke to the city’s assets,” says Courtney (Hartert) Gumbinger, CMP, CHS, director of convention services for Visit Jacksonville. “We had them share with us things they had done in prior years so we didn’t include similar venues. We always ask a series of questions to help us recommend venues for them to visit while onsite. We provided them with descriptions, pictures and links, and had them narrow down their selection to the venues they wanted to see.”
After that initial stage in site selection, Visit Jacksonville arranged the kind of site visits that convey the character and event potential of each option.
“We arranged personalized visits at three of the venues that we thought would fit their request,” Gumbinger says. “At Sweet Pete’s candy store, we arranged for ‘Sweet Pete’ himself to do the chocolate tour and allowed them to [sample] a sweet of their choice in the store. At The River Club [a historic downtown social and business club], we arranged a group photo to be taken with the iconic river view behind them. For the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, we wanted them to experience a unique way of getting their attendees there, so we arranged transportation with our St. Johns River Taxi to escort them to the venue and back.”
After these experiences, the client was able to make a well-informed choice: the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. “The river view, entertainment options and the river taxi were their reasons for choosing this venue,” Gumbinger explains.
The CVB also assisted in promoting the event with items such as posters, visitor guides, “This Bag is Headed for Fun in Jax” luggage tags and a promotional video. Their staff created a customized microsite for the group with all the information attendees would need to plan their trip to Jacksonville.
“Included in the microsite was information that we would be at the hotel during registration to answer any questions they may have about Jacksonville,” Gumbinger says. “Attendance was not tracked, but we believe this positively impacted both the hotels and surrounding businesses as it created greater awareness and comfort to explore area restaurants and activities. …We come prepared for any question we may get — anything from ‘How do I get around?’ to ‘Where can I get the best shrimp ‘n’ grits?’ Our favorite question is, ‘If I could only do one thing while in Jacksonville, what should it be?’”
As a concession, the CVB offers attendees shuttle service on a night of their choice to help them explore surrounding neighborhoods.
When a multilevel marketing organization brought its annual meeting to the Big Easy for the first time, they wanted to kick off the event with a unique New Orleans experience for the roughly 18,000 attendees. New Orleans & Company was tasked with helping to pinpoint the ideal venue partner among its 1,200 hospitality members, sourcing personalized proposals from those that fit the client’s specs. Toward facilitating site visits, the CVB creates an online, mobile-friendly itinerary that can be shared with everyone involved and updated in real time.
No atmosphere is more indigenous to New Orleans than Mardi Gras, and Mardi Gras World ultimately became the host for the client’s event. Located on the Mississippi River, the venue includes a float den that surrounds guests with floats that will roll in more than 40 parades. This kind of atmosphere both expressed the city and generated excitement appropriate to a kickoff.
In determining how to best market New Orleans’ assets to attendees, the CVB “starts with identifying the overarching theme of the meeting and looking at the profile of the average attendee,” says MaryBeth Guarisco, CMP, senior manager of specialty services & programming, New Orleans & Company. “Planners are the experts on what their attendees are interested in or enticed by, so we can take that insight and provide information about New Orleans that appeals to the group. For example, groups who tend to bring families along may be more interested in attractions such as the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and The National WWII Museum, while groups with a heavy millennial attendance are likely to be enticed by photogenic locales, ‘foodie’ adventures and high-tech activities.”
Speaking of high-tech, Guarisco explains that marketing tools have largely shifted to digital.
“As marketing skews to a digital-first — and now mobile-first — model, the majority of our tools have transitioned to digital options. Photos and videos are often used on websites and social media, as well as in email and print distributions. We have provided customizable New Orleans-themed email blast templates, banner ads, digital graphics, a mobile-friendly microsite and more.”
Physical promotional items have not been completely obviated, however. “Promotional brochures and giveaways, such as Mardi Gras beads, are popular to engage attendees and drive excitement for the destination at the year prior meeting,” Guarisco adds.
Both packages of marketing services and flexibility in those offerings are important. “Many of our tools serve as turnkey solutions for our clients, but when a group identifies a need that is not already in our toolkit, we work to find a solution, which often results in adding a new offering to our complimentary marketing toolkit,” she says.
With all of the new development in Oklahoma City, planners won’t hesitate to look to this destination for future meetings and events. Its location in the center of the U.S. makes its easy access an even bigger incentive.
The $288 million Oklahoma City Convention Center will feature nearly 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 30,000-square-foot ballroom and 45,000 square feet of additional meeting space. Its prime location across the street from the new 70-acre Scissortail Park, set to open later this year, and near the Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, will appeal to both conference attendees and locals. The convention center will open in 2020.
“This totally new convention center marks a significant milestone in Oklahoma City’s commitment to the meetings and convention industry,” says Mike Carrier, president for the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The new 17-story, 605-room Omni Oklahoma City Hotel, set to open in early 2021, will also be a nationwide destination for meetings and events. The $241 million property will serve the city’s revitalized downtown area and feature 29 suites, seven dining outlets, 78,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space, an expansive pool deck with event space, retail and a Mokara Spa.
“Oklahoma City has been incredibly welcoming to our Omni family. The revitalization surrounding this hotel is unprecedented, and we are honored to be a partner in the future of Oklahoma City,” says Peter Strebel, president of Omni Hotels & Resorts. “As a recognized leader in the convention center hotel market, we are redefining and reimagining the traditional headquarters hotel in exciting markets of growth and change across the country and Oklahoma City is leading the way for progressive downtown redevelopment.”
Scissortail Park will connect downtown Oklahoma City to the shores of the Oklahoma River. Construction on a 40-acre section across from the new convention center will be completed later this year, with the lower 30-acre portion set to open in 2021. The park will offer a variety of activities, including concerts, walking/biking/running trails, outdoor education opportunities and more.
A new streetcar system will link the park, convention center and the new Omni hotel to downtown attractions, dining and nightlife.
“Once the new center, the Omni headquarter hotel, the new Scissortail Park and the OKC Streetcar are all complete, Oklahoma City will be a completely new destination in the south-central U.S. for meetings of all sizes,” says Carrier.
L.A. Tourism’s Destination Services team is similarly flexible in helping planners to create an “only-in-L.A.” experience for their attendees.
The team stays abreast of the city’s cultural trends and latest venues, and has access to some of the best entertainment, set designers and event producers in L.A.
Recently, the Destination Services team partnered with The Garland Hotel in North Hollywood to host its annual Customer Advisory Board meeting. The event featured a “glamping” (glamorous camping) theme that had attendees leave the boardroom and gather in a giant camping tent, surrounded by The Garland’s manicured outdoor park. The CVB even creatively branded the camp “WANNAGOLALA.”
Other examples of special events the Destination Services team has produced for clients include: customized food tours across Downtown with Six Taste Food Tours that incorporate historical and restored venues, such as the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana; large-scale receptions on the backlot of a major movie studio with red carpet and “paparazzi”; and teambuilding activities like Olympic-style games at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Pittsburgh CVB staff recently showcased the Steel City for PCMA 2019 Convening Leaders. The meeting industry event utilized three primary venues: the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for its opening reception and main program, Heinz Field for its closing reception and Stage AE (an indoor concert venue, amphitheater and nightclub) for Party with a Purpose.
A total of 18 hotels representing brands such as Hilton, Fairmont, Omni and Marriott welcomed PCMA delegates.
Among PCMA’s hotel partners was the Kimpton Hotel Monaco. Housed in a historic building in the Old City, the 268-room property offers groups 13,000 square feet of meeting space and a rooftop lounge.
A consulting company recently held a party at the Kimpton Hotel and partnered with Habitat for Humanity to assist in various building projects for a local community group.
Visit Pittsburgh’s destination services representative helped connect the client to local contractors and construction companies, as well as entertainment companies for the party, and provided keynote speaker suggestions.
The CVB staff also assisted the group in obtaining a music permit.
All in all, Visit Pittsburgh provided customer service to this 175-attendee group that was on par with its service to citywides like Convening Leaders.
That contributed to impressing the consulting company’s attendees, many of whom remarked that Pittsburgh, often stereotyped as a “blue-collar town,” was nicer than they expected it to be.
While creativity and resourcefulness in event promotion and design are increasingly hallmarks of CVB service, the basics of effective customer service continue to impress planners. Timeliness is one aspect.
“Pretty much as soon as you sign the contract, Visit Denver will reach out and say here’s what we can do” to promote the upcoming meeting, says Emily Moreau, senior event operations manager with PennWell Corporation. The company held HydroVision International, a power-generation conference and trade show, at the Colorado Convention Center in 2017, bringing in about 5,000 attendees to the Mile High City. Another important tenet of customer service is setting realistic expectations about the service that will be delivered. “The biggest thing is that [compared to some other CVBs] I’ve worked with, Visit Denver is very up-front: Here’s what we can’t do, here’s where they give us the green light. [In other cases], it’s me asking those questions.”
Despite any limitations, the CVB will definitely “go the extra mile when it comes to onsite promotion,” Moreau adds. “They’ll produce pole banners with your logo on it, get in touch with local restaurants and so on. Basically anything you ask for, they’re always willing to help, which is fabulous when a planner is going to a city they haven’t been to before.”
A promotional signature of Denver meetings is the image of the 40-foot-high blue bear sculpture that peers into the convention center lobby, entitled “I See What You Mean.”
Visit Denver cleverly deploys the image throughout their marketing pieces.
“I think that is very important when you can be familiar with a brand without even having to see the words” [to identify the brand], Moreau comments. “When we were hosting a party at the convention center and I needed some entertainment, I called [my CVB rep], and she said, ‘Do you want us to send a blue bear as a mascot?’ I said, ‘Sure. I wouldn’t have ever thought of that.’”
HydroVision International partnered with several hotels, and the CVB presented Moreau the RFP results in her preferred format.
“When I get the proposal back, it’s very helpful if it has all the hotels that can participate with their initial proposed rate, how far they are from the convention center, etc.,” she says “From there, I can take it and work with it on my own without having to talk to all these individual salespeople.”
Visit Denver took more work off Moreau’s hands when a major client attending the show wanted to coordinate an offsite party. A CVB convention services manager “was able to help them and worked as an extension of my event team,” she says.
She looks forward to partnering again with Visit Denver in 2022, when HydroVision returns to the city.
There are several partners that a planner could rely on to create engaging promotions and onsite experiences for attendees. DMCs, third-party planners and even hoteliers can all contribute innovative ideas.
But CVBs today are really outdoing themselves in devising ways for a planner to make the biggest impact using their city’s resources. They’re versed in event industry trends like festivalization and glamping. They’re masters of digital promotion. They can connect groups to venues that not only express the city’s culture, but also fit with the meeting’s spirit, theme and attendee demographics.
In short, CVBs are going far beyond the logistical hospitality, while preserving all those basic services that have made them, for many planners, indispensable. C&IT