Here’s a scenario familiar to all meeting planners. It’s time to begin planning your organization’s next meeting and three or four destinations have been suggested as possible locations. Now comes the time-consuming tasks of gathering information about each location, comparing the pros and cons, issuing RFPs (requests for proposal) and finally selecting the site that is the best fit. Your very first – and most important – step should be contacting the local convention and visitors bureau in each destination; it will save you hours of research and give you the true insider information that would be difficult to gather on your own.
In order to compare apples to apples, here are the 15 key questions you should ask a destination sales professional at each CVB you are considering.
1. Does your destination have hotels that can support my meeting requirements? Pretty basic: if you need 900 sleeping rooms, 20 meeting rooms, a ballroom to seat 1200 banquet style under one roof, there’s no use going any further if the largest hotel in town has only 750 sleeping rooms and 15 meeting rooms.
2. What services does your CVB provide to meeting planners before, during and after the RFP? Yes, there are many free services that all CVBs provide, such as information about the destination, distribution of your RFP, and assistance with attendance promotion once the meeting is confirmed. However, the extent and level of services may vary from destination to destination depending upon the level of funding which is usually proportionate to the size of the destination. Additionally, some free services may require that your lead was generated through the CVB. If you have limited staff and resources, choosing a destination that partners with you throughout the site investigation, bidding, and marketing process can be a tremendous help.
To get a leg up on the services provided by each destination before you contact them, visit empowerMINT.com’s Destination Finder where over 150 CVBs outline their range of services.
3. What are your destination’s business cycle, need times, and preferred arrival/departure pattern? If you can be flexible with dates, find out what that will mean to the city. Ask about the peaks and valleys of their business cycle so you have an overview of their busiest and slowest times. Keep in mind that if you’re able to book dates in a period or pattern that helps the city, you’ll most likely leverage a much better deal.
4. Can you send out my RFP to specific hotels? The days are gone when CVBs were required to send all leads to all member hotels, but be sure to verify that only the hotels you want to consider will be contacted on your behalf.
5. What is your relationship with the convention center? If you’re planning on using the city’s convention facility, ask about the nature of its partnership with the CVB. Does the CVB control the facility’s space, how is it managed and is it privately or publicly owned? “The more information planners know, the more equipped they are to negotiate,” says Craig Davis, president & CEO, VisitPittsburgh. “If the CVB controls revenue production of the convention center, there may be greater room for negotiation.”
6. What’s new in town? First tier cities are constantly adding new hotels, night life options, and attractions, and many second and third tier cities have been adding new, quality amenities to better compete with first tier destinations. If you’ve never experienced the destination or haven’t visited in a while, don’t rely on preconceived ideas of what they offer meeting attendees.
7. How safe is your destination? Besides asking about the safety of the city overall, inquire about the areas surrounding the hotels, convention facility, and places the attendees are likely to visit. In the case of a natural or man-made disaster, do the city government, the CVB, the hotels and the convention center have emergency preparedness plans in place?
8. How accessible are public transportation and taxis? Is it easy for visitors to get around town without having to rent a car? What mode of transportation is recommended?
9. What will be happening in the destination during my event? Ask about any municipal events (festivals, marathons, etc) or development projects that could potentially impact your event as well as your attendees’ ability to get in, around and out of the city while you’re there. “If you’re coming in over the same time as the Democratic Convention or a G2 Summit, you may want to rethink your dates or destination because it may not be the best place for you to be,” says Patricia Zollman, senior director of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe. “Construction and renovation projects can also dynamically affect your program.”
10. What other meetings or events will be taking place in the hotels and/or convention center at the same time as mine? You probably don’t want a marching band event next door to your board meeting, so find out who will be sharing the hotel blocks, meeting spaces and/or convention facility as well as who will be moving in and out during your event. In other words, are there dates to avoid?
11. How flexible are your hotels and convention center? Many properties and facilities are willing to work with planners to earn their business, so find out what is or isn’t negotiable for them. “Look at your wish list and decide which things are deal breakers and which things you can forgo,” suggests Zollman. “ For instance, you might have a scenario where a hotel doesn’t have a lot of the upgraded rooms you would like, but they can offer you other amenities and considerations instead.”
12. Do you offer FAM trips or customized site visits? Ask if there are upcoming CVB-sponsored trips that allow you to experience a destination with a group of interested meeting planners. Also, inquire about a customized site visit just for you: is complimentary or discounted airfare offered? Will the CVB schedule your appointments, lodging, and transportation around town?
13. Can you offer creative options and ideas? Today’s meeting attendees are looking for new experiences. One way to provide that is by incorporating the local flavor – cuisine, history, culture — into your meeting. Ask about creative activities or experiences that work well in the destination and could provide a more unique experience for your attendees.
14. Can you recommend local service and product providers? Be sure that the CVB can put you in touch with the best support companies for your particular meeting and that they are not required to alert all service providers in the destination.
15. Will you provide references? Ask to speak to other groups that have held similar-sized meetings in the destination so you can talk to them about their experiences and get their feedback. “Definitely get references from other events,” says Donella Evoniuk, senior director of conference services for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). “Ask the planners what the destination’s strong points are and what areas may need more attention. Inquire how the CVB works with the hotel community — you want to know that in the event of a problem the CVB will have your back.”
Once you’ve gotten the insider information about each destination you can make an educated site decision and be sure that the CVB “will have your back” from beginning to end!