Jim Sharpton has a big job. As vice president, meetings and conventions for Primerica Life Insurance Company in Duluth, GA, his responsibilities include a bi-annual citywide meeting that is held in Atlanta. This year, the event drew more than 35,000 attendees and required 42 separate hotel contracts.
“We used the Georgia Dome for general sessions, and we had the entire (Georgia World) Congress Center for workshops, breakouts, exhibits and two company stores,” he explains. He called upon the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) for assistance. “For us, they’re a strong communication component as it relates to our hotels. They also help us a lot with facilitation on a number of aspects. From the moment our attendees hit the airport, we have signage that the ACVB helps us put together, like large banners and things like that. Then we work with them to put together the street pole banners during our event. They also work with the various hotels and restaurants throughout the city, making sure that they are aware of our agenda peak times, again as a major communications component. (It helps us) communicate with the restaurants, in particular, that once our attendees get back to the areas where the hotels are, the dining outlets can expect some pretty heavy use.”
The Primerica team also works with the ACVB to create several hundred buttons that restaurant and hotel employees wear to welcome attendees to the city.
“They also help coordinate all of our pre-cons with the hotels,” Sharpton states. “We’ve also used the CVB website a good bit. There’s a lot of good information there as it relates to hotels’ capacities. Since it is a citywide, we can also help steer some of our hierarchies who want to do some of their own events, and actually put them in touch with appropriate hotels, ballroom-wise.
“Atlanta just works really well for us,” he continues, explaining that one advantage is the city’s proximity to Primerica’s corporate headquarters in Duluth. “The other thing is transportation. It’s a major hub on just about every level.” He explains that a large number of Primerica’s independent contractors are located in the Southeast, Northeast and Southern California. “Everybody is obviously scattered across the country, but those are our major three hubs of business. All three have good access to Atlanta, and our Puerto Rico component can fly easily into the Atlanta airport, also.”
Soon, there will be even more reasons to hold meetings in Atlanta. “In 2014, more than $1.4 billion worth of hospitality product will come online in Atlanta,” explains ACVB president and CEO William Pate. “Part of this new wave of development is world-class attractions such as the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the College Football Hall of Fame. Located just steps from Centennial Olympic Park and featuring flexible event space, these venues were built with the meeting planner in mind.” www.atlanta.net/meetings
Lynette Owens, president of Lynette Owens & Associates, has been planning meetings and incentive programs for clients in the insurance industry for more than 20 years. “When I’m looking for a site, CVBs are invaluable, and not just for hotels — for everything,” she says.
Owens explains that back in 2011, when she began planning a huge program in Seattle for 900 attendees, with the top tier going on to an Alaska cruise, she called Visit Seattle first. “The CVBs are going to represent everybody, and they’re going to be honest about the space and what a hotel can handle. They’re going to tell you, ‘This one probably wouldn’t work for you.’ ”
“I actually appreciate a CVB that’s honest enough with me to say, ‘Listen, that’s a good choice, but this may be a better choice,’ Sharpton notes. “They’re going to have the working knowledge that I’m not going to have of restaurants, hotels, the locality and things that are going on in the city.”
CVBs offer more than assistance when selecting a destination for a meeting. Once the meeting is booked, they can provide a wide range of support services. Owens comments, “I’ve probably gone back to (Visit Seattle) with questions no less than 10 times in the last year while I’m working on this big group. (For example) we’re repurposing our flower arrangements in Seattle. We decided we don’t want flowers, so we’re getting succulents that are going to live, and we’re donating them to the children’s hospital there. I wouldn’t have found that if it hadn’t been for calling the CVB. I said ‘Help me out here!’ and they gave me three or four places, and between them and the florist, we were able to get that handled. I rely on them heavily.
“The other thing that’s huge that CVBs can give you are the visuals for all of your collateral. They’re a great source for that kind of thing, as well,” Owens adds. Sharpton commented on another feature many CVBs offer. “I appreciate the calendar that most of them have because I don’t live there, and I want to make sure I’m not putting a major event into a city where they’re going to have another major event where there’s a conflict.”
Owens also works with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), and she noted a significant advantage they offer. “I think that one of the really key points, especially for Hawaii, is that they do have a local time-zone rep like Joan Palmtag that I can reach at any time. You know how it is when you’re working late or really early and they’re not in yet. You can call her and she either has the information readily available or will get it to you right away. Joan and her team have been invaluable to me. It’s helpful to have a rep in your time zone. I use Joan because I’ve known her forever and she knows the hotel side. She was director of sales at Mauna Lani, so she knows that property inside and out and probably all of her competitors on the Big Island. She’s very well-versed on Hawaii. She knows the good DMCs, she knows the venues and locations that are good for off-property tours, etc.” The HVCB operates sales offices in various regions throughout the U.S.
Several major hotel renovation projects have been launched in Hawaii. Earlier this year, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort on Oahu completed a $25.5 million refurbishment of its Ali’i Tower. Also on Oahu, on the island’s North Shore, Turtle Bay Resort is expected to complete a multimillion-dollar renovation of its 397 guest rooms, spa and fitness center and two restaurants later this year. On the Big Island, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows is undergoing a $30 million renovation. Upgrades to the resort’s five bungalows are already complete and renovations to the hotel are expected to be wrapped up by the end of the year. www.meethawaii.com
The Greater Phoenix hotel industry is counting on an “off the charts” boost from Super Bowl XLIX, which will take place in Phoenix in 2015. The last Super Bowl held in Arizona, in February 2008, attracted more than 91,000 visitors from out of state who spent $218 million.
The 2015 Super Bowl offers excellent opportunities to plan meetings and incentive programs that incorporate the big game as well as pre-event festivities, and the Greater Phoenix CVB is ready to help. “Visit Phoenix offers a stellar convention services team that offers innovative, creative and valuable insights for planners in the insurance and financial services industries,” comments Doug MacKenzie, communications director for the Greater Phoenix CVB. www.visitphoenix.com/meeting-planners/index.aspx
Visit Tucson has launched a new branding campaign to promote the laidback, free-spirited nature of the city, which also is known as the “Old Pueblo.” The campaign, which utilizes the slogan “Free yourself,” was created by the global tourism marking firm MMGY Global.
The city also is offering a “Tucson on Us” promotion, which offers a credit of $500 to $5,000 to a group’s master account based on the number of peak rooms during a minimum two-night stay. Groups booking a meeting for three consecutive years can triple their savings, which would represent a credit of up to $15,000. Complete details are available at www.tucsononus.com.
Visit Orlando recently announced that the city welcomed 57 million visitors in 2012, which set a new record and reinforced the city’s image as the most visited destination in America. To prepare for future growth, Orlando International Airport (OIA) is planning to invest $2.1 billion in expansion projects through 2018. The improvements will include a new 16-gate terminal complex and extension of the airport’s people mover system. OIA also will become the first airport in the U.S. to test a self-service kiosk to expedite international arrivals.
Orlando’s hotels continue to gear up for more business, as well. The Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort completed a $26 million renovation project last year that included revamped guest rooms, dining outlets and meeting space. It also included the new 27 Palms Pool Club, which features a 79-foot water slide, a waterfall and The Beach, a zero-entry pool. The Hilton Orlando recently broke ground on the Promenade, a 50,000-sf outdoor meeting space. The new venue, which will accommodate up to 3,000 guests, is scheduled to be completed in the fall. www.orlandomeeting.com
Groups meeting in Tampa will benefit from the significant technology improvements that were made to prepare for the Republican National Convention, which was held there in August 2012. A $15 million upgrade installed by AT&T 4G LTE covers the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa Convention Center (TCC) and nine area hotels. The project expanded the area’s mobile Internet service and added more than 200 Wi-Fi hotspots and three new permanent cell towers.
The TCC, located downtown, has partnered with the TECO Line Streetcar System to offer meeting planners and conference attendees free access to the service. Registered conference attendees can use their official conference badge for unlimited use of the streetcar system during their conference at the 600,000-sf riverfront venue.
The TCC recently was approved as an Energy Star Partner. Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U. S. Department of Energy. It is designed to protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.
Downtown Tampa has put a lock (so to speak) on a unique private event space. The Vault, which was built in 1923 as The Exchange National Bank, has now been restored to accommodate up to 600 guests. It features a soaring ornamental ceiling and a versatile, open main floor. The venue is located in the heart of Tampa’s Downtown Arts District. In addition, Tampa’s Classic Federal Courthouse is currently being transformed into a 130-room Le Meridien hotel, slated to open in 2014.
In other Tampa news, the Hilton Tampa Downtown (formerly the Hyatt Regency Tampa) is undergoing renovations to transform it into a four-star luxury hotel. The Floridian Hotel, built in 1926, underwent seven years of renovations and reopened last summer. It is one of the few hotels in the Tampa Bay area to earn a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. www.visittampabay.com
The Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (SCVB) is offering a “Site See and Fly Free” promotion that includes a customized site inspection for planners submitting a RFP for a group program that includes a minimum of 100 rooms on peak night. The offer includes complimentary airfare for one meeting planner, transportation, site inspections of properties and venues, and overnight accommodations.
Planners who want to add a bit of an adrenaline rush to the choice of leisure activities they offer their attendees can check out their options on a new website launched by the SCVB. The site, www.adventureinscottsdale.com, lists outfitters that offer activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking and canyoneering. The SCVB also has released a downloadable guide highlighting more than 40 activities that showcase Scottsdale’s image as the “West’s Most Western Town.”
The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess recently wrapped up a five-year $60 million enhancement of the resort. The most recent additions include the new 52,331-sf Palomino Conference Center and the opening of Well & Being at Willow Stream Spa, which offers an à la carte menu of spa services, and health and wellness programs. www.meetinscottsdale.com
Meetings are big business in Las Vegas. In fact, meetings and conventions had an economic impact of $6.3 billion in the city in 2011 alone. Never known for being a city that rests on its laurels, Las Vegas will benefit from more than $5 billion in new projects in the next several years, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA).
One of the new projects is a multibillion-dollar Asian-themed resort complex on the Las Vegas Strip. Expected to open in 2016, Resorts World Las Vegas will feature 3,500 rooms and 500,000 sf of meeting space on the 87-acre site. Not to be outdone by the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas or the “skyscrapers” of New York-New York Hotel and Casino, the new property will include a replica of the Great Wall of China.
MGM Resorts International is investing more than $300 million in its Las Vegas resorts in 2013. It is rebranding THEhotel at Mandalay Bay into Delano Las Vegas, which is expected to open in early 2014. The company also is renovating several of its properties, including Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, The Mirage and Bellagio.
Caesars Entertainment is investing more than $500 million in an open-air dining, shopping and entertainment district called The Linq. Scheduled to open in late 2013, the new complex will be anchored by the world’s largest observation wheel, the 550-foot high Las Vegas High Roller, which will be larger than the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer. It will contain 28 glass-enclosed cabins that can accommodate up to 40 people each and the attraction will be available for group events.
In February, the LVCVA unveiled plans for the Las Vegas Global Business District, a $2.5 billion project that will include major renovations of the Las Vegas Convention Center. This will be the first major expansion of the 54-year-old Las Vegas Convention Center in more than a decade. www.vegasmeansbusiness.com
As they say, knowledge is power, and Primerica’s Jim Sharpton summed up one of the key values that CVBs bring to the table. “They live there, they know the area. They’re a great informational resource.” I&FMM