An Interview with Gary Sherwin, President and CEO, Visit Newport Beach, Inc.
The mission of Destination Marketing Association International’s empowerMINT initiative is simple: Help planners better understand the true value found in working with their CVB partners! We also want to make sure planners fully understand how to leverage this relationship to its fullest potential.
While there are a plethora of resources available to planners supporting the skills and resources necessary to execute a successful meeting, few of them combine destination knowledge, local expertise, and the connections necessary to leverage in-market relationships. And none of them, other than the services of your destination experts of the official marketing arm of their destinations (DMOs or CVBs) are FREE to you! Free because their services are funded by tax assessments and those vested in growing tourism in the destination.
So we thought, who better than Gary Sherwin, President and CEO of Visit Newport Beach, Inc. and the current Board Chair of DMAI, to consult for advice on this very topic. I have specific questions to ask Gary directly taken from a planner who reached out to Michelle Donahue, Senior Vice President of Sales at Visit Newport Beach, Inc. I figured if a planner was clarifying these points with Michelle, they might be top of mind for many other planners, as well.
TERRI: Why is it important for a planner to work with their CVB partners? Bottom line; what’s in it for them?
GARY: You know our industry mantra is: CVBs are the best first point of contact to help you find the right fit for any size meeting. As destination experts, we are the only point of contact that delivers all your destination options and gives you the opportunity to explore all the possibilities. We have spent years building relationships with those vested in the meetings market in the local community. You can leverage this great base of knowledge, connectivity, and buying power through us.
Everyone wants to know what the locals know, right? We are your feet on the ground and your eyes and ears in the city. We will introduce you to the hotels and venues that best meet your needs and budget, including those that can fulfill even the most obscure program need. We can guide you to some obvious and not so obvious choices.
And it’s also important to remember, that not all meetings are created equal or viewed equally by hotels and venues. Let the CVB educate you on the value of a particular program in their community and make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to get the best deal possible. We will give you expert advice on your best options. We are fully educated on all aspects of our destinations, so you don’t have to be.
TERRI: Often when people hear that CVB services are FREE, they are circumspect. FREE, really? What’s the catch? Can you explain how CVBs are funded?
GARY: Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) also known as Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) are not for profit organizations authorized by their governmental entity to promote the destination and attract visitors from leisure and meetings and convention markets, and to provide a multitude of services specifically for planners. CVB services are FREE to planners because they have already been paid for by public dollars in the form of hotel occupancy taxes and assessments.
Additionally, many CVB’s set aside funds to support clients considering their destination. For example, Visit Newport Beach can offer airfare for clients (with no strings attached as long as there is a qualified RFP in play), and often offer sponsorship funds to the master account if a Newport Beach hotel is selected. You should always make a point of exploring incentives and financial options with your CVB expert. Why would you want to miss this financial assistance?
TERRI: Can CVBs customize assistance from small groups that require a single hotel to a large city wide event?
GARY: Remember I said earlier, best first point of contact to help you find the right fit for any size meeting. A common misperception of CVBs is that we only offer our services to city wide conventions or those using multiple hotels or convention center space. In fact, planners can utilize CVBs and their destination expertise and services will be tailored to meet the criteria of the meeting planner, the objectives of an event, and the size of any group.
TERRI: What do you think are some of the best practices when using CVBs?
GARY: The most important best practice is to involve the CVB on the front end by including us at the same time you may be sourcing hotels and national sales offices. We want to be involved from the start, so we can partner with our hotels and help lay out the best opportunity for choosing the destination. Please remember, even if you are sourcing your RFP electronically, you can choose to include the CVB in your RFP distribution.
Frequently, a destination expert is contacted after the program is booked or when a crisis has occurred. This puts us on the defensive team, as opposed to using us in the important role of your offensive team. It is critical to partner with a CVB early so their knowledge and expertise is fully utilized; as a result, the right connections and decisions are made for the meeting, right from the beginning.
Here are 3 questions I would suggest you ask your CVB:
- What is going on in your destination over my preferred dates?
CVBs understand how business flows through their destination and this knowledge is key in planning an effective program and staying on budget. They are keenly aware of major events and have a pulse on changes happening in their city. They show meeting planners their value by providing answers to frequently asked questions like:
- What major events/citywide conventions will occur over my dates?
- Are there new or renovated hotels?
- When are the shoulder periods or value dates?
- What arrival-departure pattern will garner better hotel room rates?
- Can you take a look at my RFP and educate me on what might be missing or would prevent hotels from offering a quick and competitive response?
You CVB partner knows what kind of business fits each of their hotels and what kind of offerings are unique and likely to meet your budget, meeting requirements and appeal to your meeting objectives and attendee preferences. They may also guide you to hotels or venues that you have not included in your RFP distribution, but should!
- Can you connect me to those who are like minded in your community?
Your destination expert can help you identify deep resources of intellectual capital in their respective communities. There may be similar business clusters to draw intelligence from, speakers to enhance your program, or locals to support your efforts and promotion. Let us connect you to those who are unique and indigenous to our destination that will enhance your program.
TERRI: Are there differences in how CVB/DMOs from different destinations work or the services they provide to planners?
GARY: Of course, all destinations are different, just like all hotels and venues vary. Much is determined by size and budget. Yet, essentially all CVBs who are vested in the meetings market will have a range of services to offer you; including site selection, attendance promotion, community and political advocacy, media and public relations services, and on site services. The best way to know-ASK! We are here and ready to serve and enhance your meeting in any destination of your choosing.
Thank you, Gary, for your time and insight. I think you have helped paint a very clear picture for planners hoping to better understand the CVB value proposition. For those who want to take a deeper dive, I hope you will join Gary and me for our February webinar.