If you ask 100 meeting and event planners to name their biggest professional challenges, chances are 98 will cite time poverty and “streamlined” budgets. Too often, the do-more-with-less philosophy is causing stress in the workplace, and either the quality of the meeting or the effectiveness of the planner is compromised. If you were offered an additional staff person for free, would you take it? If you could get complimentary high-level meeting services, such as consulting, housing assistance, and attendance promotion marketing, would you accept? If you said yes, and you are not taking advantage of all the free assistance available from convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs), it may be because you are unaware of their mission and the variety of free services they offer to help planners produce a successful event. But, even if you are a seasoned planner accustomed to using CVB’s free services, please read on to be sure you’re taking full advantage of all they have to offer.
Think of a CVB as your go-to advocate, one who is there to:
- educate you about the hotels, facilities, attractions and venues in their destination
- help you find the perfect fit for your meeting
- provide a myriad of convention services
- serve as your advocate and liaison to the meeting destination community
- keep you informed about local developments that might affect your meeting
Sadly, some associations and corporations budget for outside management companies to provide many of the services that CVBs provide for free, perhaps because they suspect there must be a catch, a hidden agenda – and they’re right. In return for all this free assistance, the CVB expects you to have a successful meeting experience, one that your attendees will rave about and, hopefully, induce you to return in the future. While the benefits you receive from working with the CVB are free to you, there is actually a combination of funding sources that underwrite the activities of the CVB, most notably a portion of hotel occupancy taxes that are earmarked to support tourism efforts. Local governments know that the marketing efforts of the convention and visitors bureau result in their community’s economic growth, and their investment reaps invaluable rewards.
All CVBs offer complimentary destination information, assistance in creating and distributing your request for proposal (RFP), coordinating your site inspection visit, recommendations for venues and support vendors, attendance promotion assistance, and serving as your community liaison. Some additional services such as registration personnel or free airfare for your site inspection may be based on the size of the meeting or have a fee.
Here’s what you can expect for FREE:
CVB sales professionals are experts when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of their cities, so it follows that they are the best first point of contact to help you find the right fit for any size meeting.
They accomplish this by:
- educating you about the hotels in their destination
- helping you understand the desirability and fit of your meeting for the different types of hotels
- discussing the seasonality and pattern preferences of the hotels, especially if lower rates are a priority or preferred date availability is an issue
- informing you about possible conflicts with other city events or meetings
”It feels to me that CVBs are there to help without strings attached,” observes Cynthia McDowell, CMP, CSEP, Director, Convention& Meetings with the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. “Using a CVB allows me to gather information and make a destination decision without contractual pressure from properties. A CVB sells their city and it doesn’t matter to them at which specific hotel property you book your meeting, they are truly interested in bringing business to their city.”
Your CVB expert will work with you to determine the appropriate hotels, meeting/convention facilities and event venues based on the goals and requirements for your meeting, assist you in creating an effective RFP, and distribute it to the hotels of your choice. He or she will follow up with them to be sure they are responding in a timely manner and intercept hotel questions so you’re not inundated with phone calls and emails. Your sales professional understands the value and uniqueness of your meeting and serves as your advocate to the hotel community,
Site Inspection Details
When you’re ready to visit the hotels, the CVB saves you hours of planning by establishing your itinerary, confirming hotel appointments and accommodations, and arranging for on-site transportation. In most cases, your CVB sales professional will accompany you, pointing out venues and attractions which may fit into your meeting program. Because you submitted your RFP to the CVB, you are ahead of the game: the specs, food and beverage requirements, goals and objectives have been outlined and explained already, and the proposals you received in response have narrowed the focus of your site trip. Why spend your valuable time putting together all the pieces of the site visit puzzle when, with one phone call, you can enlist the free-of-charge services of a destination expert to do it all for you?
Event and Off Site Selection Support
Besides helping you find the best match in hotels and meeting spaces, CVBs will suggest venues for off-site activities from golf courses for your annual tournament to appropriate restaurants for the board dinner. They will provide referrals for vendor support services, from audio visual providers to airport transportation, florists, speakers and printers – any local company who may be involved in the production of your meeting.
Nobody knows the community better, or is more involved, than the CVB, a fact that puts them in a position to connect you with local political, education, business industry, and media contacts. If your meeting includes a social responsibility project, the CVB can suggest appropriate charities or partner organizations.
The CVBs of all meeting destinations provide complimentary maps and general destination information, logos, destination videos, and photo albums which you can use to build awareness and excitement about your meeting’s location. Some of the many additional attendance promotion services which CVBs may provide, based on the size of your group, are:
- A customized landing page or link on the destination website
- Small logoed promotional items
- Destination materials to promote next year’s meeting
- A destination representative to promote next year’s meeting
- Assistance with securing sponsorships from local companies that partner with groups for exposure during the meeting
empowerMINT.com – Your Free Online CVB Directory
To help you take full advantage of their free services, the CVB industry has created a free online tool: empowerMINT.com, the virtual national sales office for over 130 meeting destinations. To find a list of services provided at each destination, visit empowerMINT.com, select the locations you are interested in and click on the “services” section on each destination’s landing page. Think of the free expertise, assistance and services as the CVB’s gift to you – your budget and sanity will thank you!