Planning a meeting, especially one that is large, complex or takes place in an unfamiliar location, can be a formidable task. Planners overwhelmed with stretching tight budgets and juggling multiple daily tasks may lack the time to handle every meeting detail.
That’s why many planners seek help from CVBs and DMCs. But many of them, especially novices, aren’t as familiar as they should be with how CVBs and DMCs function, and how to work with them to get the best assistance possible.
The two organizations have fundamental differences but serve overlapping functions.
DMCs are for-profit operational and logistical experts on destinations including properties, venues, vendor selection, themed events, ground transportation, teambuilding, group tours, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and entertainment. They typically have extensive local contacts and can save planners time but at a cost. Typically, DMCs charge either management fees for various services or a lump-sum fee, and require at least partial payment up front.
CVBs are free or low-cost destination marketing organizations charged with attracting meetings and visitors while providing information on everything a destination offers. CVBs organize site visits, filter and distribute RFPs, and encourage competing properties to work together to house groups large enough to require several hotels.
Some CVBs are funded by hotel taxes or other public funds. Other CVBs are financed by its members, which can include hotels, DMCs and other suppliers. This latter type of CVB may tend to recommend only its members to planners.
Planners can benefit from the experiences of those who have worked successfully with CVBs, including two who worked with VisitCharlotte, a division of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA).
Anita Palmer, project coordinator and meeting planner for Moorestown, New Jersey-based Bayada Home Health Care, worked with VisitCharlotte to hold a meeting in May 2018 at the Charlotte Convention Center (CCC) for 2,200 employees, directors and executives.
According to Palmer, VisitCharlotte helped plan the meeting in several ways. “Based on my programs and needs, they helped select and coordinate all 11 hotels,” says Palmer. They helped assign banquet rooms in the CCC for 18 awards banquets based on my numbers. They helped arrange AV according to our basic AV package for each luncheon. They anticipated needs and were quick to respond to my questions and many requests. They referred décor and linen companies. They also sent me links and PDFs on happenings in Charlotte.”
Palmer offers the following advice on the best strategy to use when working with CVBs.
“Clearly share who your group is and what you and they expect from the CVB, convention center and hotels,” says Palmer. “Provide all of your information on meeting needs in writing, including schedule of events, food and beverage, AV, etc. Also anticipate and discuss concerns your attendees may have. Regarding communication with the CVBs, using the phone is sometimes quicker than text or email. …Keep it simple and to the point.”
In June, Charlotte-based Bojangles’ Restaurants, Inc. held its 40th anniversary convention at the CCC and The Westin Charlotte. The meeting included about 1,000 Bojangles’ employees, franchise owners and executives.
VisitCharlotte and the CRVA were indispensable partners, says Elizabeth Ingram, events coordinator for Bojangles’ Restaurants, Inc. “They were extremely helpful throughout the sales and contract process following our selection of Charlotte as the destination,” she says. “They were all a joy to work with and truly wanted our convention to be a success.”
The CVB recommended offsite activity options for Bojangles’ attendees including kids’ programs available throughout Uptown Charlotte. Other CVB recommendations that attendees enjoyed included the U.S. National Whitewater Center and Carowinds amusement park, an outdoor facility featuring rafting, biking, zip lines and live music. Attendees played golf at local courses and enjoyed a performance at the CCC by Needtobreathe, a Grammy-award-winning Christian band.
“Be sure to check out any CVB website, as their online identity should give you a feel for the destination as a whole.”
— Marco Bloemendaal
Charlotte’s CVB also helped Ingram work efficiently and obtain value. “Their ability to put me in touch with the right folks throughout Charlotte for our convention was extremely helpful in terms of saving time and money,” says Ingram. “They are very in tune to what happens around the city, so they can easily assist planners with all types of event details.”
Ingram’s advice on working with CVBs is simple: “Allow them to be a planning partner for your event. Utilize their expertise and experience working with various community businesses to help your event succeed.”
Planners who have never planned a meeting in a destination may find CVBs most helpful. But planners who are familiar with a destination also find CVBs useful.
For example, Memphis, Tennessee-based Servicemaster Global Holdings Inc., a provider of residential and commercial services, has held several meetings in New Orleans. Servicemaster’s most recent events in New Orleans include a meeting at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center last year for about 2,500 attendees from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. In January 2018, the company held a meeting for 250 attendees at the Hotel Monteleone.
According to Julie Rule, CMP, manager, events and community relations for Servicemaster, familiarity with New Orleans makes working with CVBs even more efficient.
“We may be familiar with many New Orleans properties, but CVBs provide the most up-to-date information on the latest in the hotel business. We work with the CVB staff to help them understand the profile of our attendees and which features and benefits would be most important to me as the planner and for attendees. We’ve relied on their help for hotel sourcing, DMC selection, restaurant reservations, tours and activities and charitable give-back programs.”
Rule says that one of a CVB’s most valuable services involve helping planners select vendors. “Since we’re headquartered in Memphis, it’s difficult for us to know all there is to know about all the vendors in the New Orleans area,” says Rule.
New Orleans & Company (formerly the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau) helped Rule narrow the list of suppliers quickly. “Their website and staff are professional,” says Rule. “As with all CVBs, they allowed us to do our own negotiations, but were always a quick phone call or email away for us to ask for advice or recommendations.”
Rule values the impartiality that New Orleans & Company showed in recommending vendors and properties. “Their CVB does an amazing job at remaining neutral throughout the process, while at the same time pointing out the pros and cons for our attendees,” says Rule. “Not every property is right for every group, and not every group is right for every property. That’s something we firmly believe, and we appreciate their integrity and honesty.”
Rule’s advice: “Consult with your CVB from the very beginning. They’ve seen successful programs and can make recommendations to you of what works well. They’ve also seen what doesn’t work well and can steer you in the right direction.”
Experts offer the following advice on how to get the most from working with CVBs.
According to Robert Reso, vice president, convention sales, New Orleans & Company, CVBs want planners to do the following: “Provide as much information as possible so destination experts can help ensure you get complete responses for your RFP search,” says Reso. “This goes beyond dates, rates and space. Provide information on the type of meeting, a rough profile of attendees and the overall objectives for your event.”
Reso adds that planners should always indicate whether hotel specifications are flexible. “Sometimes, adjusting some programming or timing can make all the difference in the world, and hotels once thought to not be the right fit may actually be the best option,” says Reso.
It’s also crucial for planners to describe the purpose of a meeting. Here’s an example, from a CVB perspective, of how knowing the purpose can help a planner:
A planner was searching for a location in New Orleans for a very sensitive meeting. When CVB officials asked about the purpose of the meeting, they learned that it involved the acquisition of another organization and consolidation of about 25 percent of its sales force.
According to Reso, “By explaining the purpose of the meeting, we were able to help hotels tailor a proposal to focus less on the festive atmosphere of the city and more on the business aspects of hosting a meeting at its hotels. The hotels were able to offer space that was more private, as opposed to space that may have been in more visible areas of the hotel.”
A CVB’s intimate knowledge of a destination also can help planners find popular types of teambuilding activities that aren’t well known. For example, VisitCharlotte helped Professional Trade Publications Inc., which specializes in home décor, find a CSR activity during its Concrete Décor Spring Training Show. Visit Charlotte connected the company to the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte which, due to budgetary restrictions, could not pursue improvements to its facility. “Attendees interacted with shelter residents and assisted in constructing a new patio.”
Planners and CVB officials agree that its crucial to thoroughly explore a CVB’s online tools. “Be sure to check out any CVB website, as their online identity should give you a feel for the destination as a whole, and it will get you started on learning more about the CVB, how it works and who to contact,” says Marco Bloemendaal, senior vice president sales, VisitMilwaukee.
The vast majority of CVBs in large and small destinations are constantly improving their websites and offering more ways to research destinations and venues, market meetings and build attendance. For example, VisitMilwaukee’s reimagined website now has 1,500 pages of content and 5,000 photos and videos.
The websites continue to become more planner-friendly, increasingly mobile-compatible and easier to navigate. New tools improve the ability to build customized itineraries, share via social media, book hotels and perform other tasks.
Some CVBs offer tailored online marketing campaigns to help promote meetings across various social media channels. Services can include customized welcome videos, print and video blogs, and customized microsites.
CVBs also are launching more specialty sites in areas such as medical tourism, local chefs and golf. Also check online customer testimonials from other planners.
While CVB online resources offer valuable information about destinations, nothing beats phone and face-to-face contacts for establishing relationships with CVB officials.
Planners should consider using a Destination Management Company for meetings that are large, complex or take place in an unfamiliar destination — if they have the budget for a DMCs services.
Some planners hesitate to hire DMCs because they are on tight budgets, want to do everything single-handedly or feel that outside help is unnecessary. However, planners who can afford it can take advantage of DMCs’ relationships with local vendors and buying power due to the volume and frequency of purchases.
Planners also can save time. According to Candace Bisconte, partner, Orange County Access Destination Services, “Some find time saving as most valuable, some crave creative input and event design and others enjoy the security of knowing they have a partner to support in the planning and execution of the meeting once onsite.”
Much of the time savings DMCs offer include the work they do compiling price summaries and comparisons for the many activities and events that make up most meetings, especially large ones. “Collecting quotes from each vendor and considering the additional costs for labor, delivery, staffing and miscellaneous charges attached to each offering must be done correctly and within the budget parameters of the meeting,” says Bisconte. “A substantial amount of time is spent on this.”
Planners also should take advantage of a DMCs detailed knowledge about local venues and restaurants. Suppose a planner seeks a restaurant for a dinner seating 15 top executives, with the following requirements: the atmosphere, décor and menu must represent the company’s corporate culture; the chairs and table must be wooden, ornate and high-backed; the reception area must be separate from the dining room and allow a free and easy flow between the two spaces. Few are better in assisting to make this happen than a DMC.
The bottom line: Planners must determine whether the expense of a DMC is worth the time saved and other advantages. Using a DMC, especially for the first time, can be challenging.
Here’s some advice on hiring and working with a DMC to get the greatest bang for the buck.
Although CVBs and DMCs are different organizations with different purposes, both have one thing in common — making life easier for planners. C&IT