Ned Blair is the Senior National Sales Manager with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, and today he shares with us how they partner with planners to grow attendance, the exciting developments in the destination, and what makes Charlotte so unique for meetings.
What makes Charlotte a great meeting destination?
NED: There are a variety of things that make Charlotte so special, but when it comes down to it, you can sum it up in these three key attributes:
- Charlotte’s easily accessible. Charlotte is home to the sixth busiest airport in the world, and we’re the second-largest hub for American Airlines. Charlotte Douglas International Airport offers more than 720 daily flights and nonstop service to approximately 170 destinations, over 40 of which are international. The best part about our airport is its only 7 miles away from Center City. Our central East Coast location makes us an easy destination to drive to as well.
- Charlotte’s got a lot to discover. Charlotte is the most visited destination in the Carolinas, and one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. The city continues to evolve from what it was just five to six years ago. Today, we’re one of most sought after cities for millennials, who are looking for a destination that is not only affordable, but that also offers rich culinary experiences, cultural attractions and exciting entertainment options. In 2016, Zagat rated Charlotte the ninth hottest food cities in the country.
- Charlotte is compact and walkable. The city offers creative cuisine, powerful stage productions, insightful art, athletic events and more within its compact, safe and walkable package. There are more than 5,000 hotel rooms, 200 casual and sit-down restaurants, exciting nightlife and professional sports all within a walkable 2-square-mile district. And with smart development projects continuously adding to the cityscape, Charlotte is indeed a convention city bursting with possibilities.
What is the one thing planners are always surprised to learn about the Charlotte area?
NED: Our amazing airlift and competitive food and beverage costs at the Charlotte Convention Center. Our airlift is extensive when you compare it to like-size cities. And in addition to the amazing quality of the food and beverage offered at the Charlotte Convention Center, we also manage the program in-house, which allows us to offer planners competitive pricing.
What might we find you enjoying in the destination on your day off?
NED: I love the outdoors, so you’ll find me in one of two places—on Lake Norman or at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. Lake Norman is located 19 miles north of the city, and it’s the largest man-made lake in the state with more than 33,000 acres. The U.S. National Whitewater Center is home to the world’s largest man-made whitewater river. The outdoor adventure complex is situated on 1,300 acres of land just 20 minutes outside Center City. Class I-IV rapids, miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, ropes courses, zip line experiences and a full conference facility are just a few things you’ll find on-site.
What advice would you give to a planner who hasn’t worked with a CVB before?
NED: Include the local CVB in your bid process. There are many free services that you can receive from a CVB, and all you need to do is include them in the sourcing process. CVBs are the destination experts. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and Visit Charlotte take pride in serving as a resource for meeting planners and are at the ready to work with you.
What do you see trending in the meeting’s market? How is your CVB proactively addressing this trend or staying current?
NED: Attendance building and the use of technology during a meeting and/or convention. We have learned that one of the key factors for meeting planners is driving meeting attendance. As a strategic partner, Charlotte offers tools that are focused on doing just that. Our destination services team has created several options to help drive meeting and convention attendance, and we work as an extension of the organization to ensure a successful conference. In addition to focusing on attendance building, we have started to look at how we can be a better partner when it comes to technology.
Technology is a very important part of today’s meetings, and it will become even more so in the future. The Charlotte Convention Center has partnered with Smart City to provide complimentary Wi-Fi throughout public spaces, meeting rooms and ballrooms in the Charlotte Convention Center. Most of the technology that the industry uses requires internet connectivity to operate effectively. By partnering with Smart City, we have not only been able to provide free Wi-Fi, but the capabilities will constantly be maintained and enhanced in the years to come.
How does a planner benefit from consulting with you prior to sending out their RFP?
NED: CVBs can be one of your most valuable resources when planning a meeting. The CVB Sales Manager can assist you with the RFP process by helping you find the right hotels and venues that fit your client’s budget and needs. They can also help connect your client to partners and local resources that will help them secure and execute a successful meeting and/or convention. These interactions allow us to guide you in the right direction while also helping you uncover new opportunities or partnerships that you may not have thought of.
What’s the latest news, developments, or events in your destination you’d like to share with planners?
NED: As one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, we have more than 2,000 new hotel rooms slated for Center City between now and the end of 2020, with even more on the way after that. Additionally, the Charlotte Convention Center will undergo a $110 million expansion beginning in spring 2019 that is slated for completion in December 2020. The expansion will add a total of 50,000 square feet to the existing 550,000-square-foot Convention Center, including 24,000 square feet of pre-function space and 26,000 square feet of breakout space comprised of 15 new meeting rooms ranging from 940 to 2,600 square feet with the flexibility to create a 10,000-square-foot space. The expansion will also create an overstreet pedestrian walkway to The Westin Charlotte, the city’s largest hotel with 700 rooms, and the new Crescent Station Stonewall mixed-use development.
What differentiates your destination from your competitive set?
NED: I would say the overall meeting and convention package. When you combine the power of our airlift, the walkability of our city, the world-class attractions, culinary options, concerts and athletic events that take place here, along with our quality of housing and food and beverage, Charlotte is really hard to beat.