Mike Smith, CDMP, Vice President of Convention Sales, at Travel Portland, shares his candid and surprisingly straight forward view of Portland and his staff at Travel Portland, and Destination Marketing Association International’s (DMAI’s) Terri Roberts leans in to learn more.
The two things I love about Mike…how smart he is and how real he is! Without a doubt one of my favorite people to connect to at industry events and tradeshows because I always learn something fresh and unique from his perspective. He is as genuine as they come. Read on to get a glimpse into his world at Travel Portland and their commitment to guide you as the trusted resource in their destination. No B.S. and you heard it here! (I told you to keep reading!)
TERRI: Tell me a little about yourself and your background in the CVB industry?
MIKE: Like a lot of CVB’ers, I started out in the hotel industry — worked as bellman, houseman, night auditor, night manager, front desk agent, finally in sales. My hotel career bounced me back and forth between Oregon and San Antonio, TX. I was DOS at a small resort in Oregon when Portland decided to build the Oregon Convention Center, and as a result, the Portland CVB had some openings in sales. During my time in San Antonio, that CVB had really impressed me, so I applied for a convention sales slot in Portland. Now — 25 years later — I know I made the right decision!
TERRI: What’s the best thing about your job?
MIKE: Two things, actually. First, it is a job that makes a difference, and that one can be proud of. My staff and I are part of economic development, and that means that we help bring new revenue into the city, and that helps fund a lot of important things (city services, roads, fire protection, police, etc.), and we help keep people in Portland employed. Secondly, every day is new and unique — new people, new situations, and new opportunities. CVB work is NEVER dull!
TERRI: What makes Portland a unique meeting destination?
MIKE: Embarrassingly trite, but the people here. Our hospitality community “gets it” — we don’t always necessarily agree with one another on every situation, but we’re always able to have open, candid conversations and get to an end result that ensures that our clients have a positive experience. Northwesterners are by nature incredibly friendly and accepting, and I think that shines through to visitors. And if you’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest … oh boy, you are going to be SO happy!
TERRI: What is the one thing planners are always surprised to learn about Portland?
MIKE: Probably that the Oregon Convention Center is the largest center in the Northwest (oh, and it is also the best run, greenest, best food, best staff, best designed, most affordable … you get it.). Number two would be that we don’t have any sales, food, or beverage taxes. We get a lot of, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Also, a lot of people don’t realize how large and cosmopolitan a city Portland is, and they are surprised by our combination of “upscale/down-to-earth/really fun/gotta get back here soon” vibe.
TERRI: How do you see the value you provide to planners as a CVB?
MIKE: We know our city. We have absolutely no stake in who in our city gets the business, only that Portland gets the business. This means that we’re pretty no B.S. to our planners — we will not provide misinformation, we’ll point planners only in directions that make sense to the planner’s organization. We’d rather not get selected than get selected based on pie-in-the-sky that we can’t deliver. We’re very much a middle-man — we have the ability to have candid behind-the-scenes conversations with both our hospitality community and the planner, to ensure that everybody is able to reach common-ground agreements — and that the planner (and their organization) will have a great Portland experience.
TERRI: What do you think are the advantages to reaching out to a CVB first when planning a meeting?
MIKE: Initially — wow, can CVBs ever save planners time! If we know a group’s true needs — rate requirements, dates and flexibility, meeting space, F&B, overall budgets — we can narrow a search to those options that truly make sense. Again, we know our city, and we can provide great guidance. A lot of times, planners may not have ever been to a city that is now under consideration — we can (and will!) tell a planner what really works, versus what looks like it would work based on looking at us on a website. CVBs can also work with planners with respect to site tours (air fare, housing, transportation), and provide key information on funding opportunities (many cities have “opportunity funds,” coordinated via the CVB, that may be available to organizations). As well, CVBs are a great resource if an organization needs co-op partners or strong involvement from their local members.
TERRI: What size/type of meetings best fit in your destination?
MIKE: Let’s start with type — Portland is really eclectic! We’ve had success with virtually every type of meeting, ranging from high tech (Supercomputing, Open Source), to hobby (National Square Convention), to government (remember, no sales tax!), to corporate (Intel, Nike), to Education, to Environmental, to…can’t think of a market segment we haven’t successfully hosted. Size-wise, Portland works really well for groups from 10 to up to about 5,000 on peak night.
TERRI: Can a planner of a small or a large meeting take advantage of your services?
MIKE: Definitely! Absolutely! Yes! I’ve never met a planner whose small meetings weren’t as important as his/her large ones — number of attendees does not equate to importance! As a CVB, we’re as vested in the success of small meetings as we are with large conventions. And our services are available to all size meetings.
TERRI: Why are your services free?
MIKE: Great question! We are very fortunate that our funders (City of Portland, Metro, and the Portland hospitality community) truly recognize the value of visitors coming to Portland. They are committed to providing the Portland CVB with the resources necessary to compete effectively with all the other great West Coast destinations to bring meetings and conventions to Portland — and this means providing the services that are important to meeting planners and organizations. Our CVB’s complimentary services are simply a part of Portland’s commitment to the meetings industry.
TERRI: What motivates you to provide the excellent service you are known for?
MIKE: Pride. Pride in our product, pride in knowing how it “should be done” (and doing it in spades), and pride in knowing that you have helped a planner (with whom you have probably forged a life-long connection) be successful, and pride in knowing that you have helped create a positive economic situation in Portland. And pride in presenting a city that you love in its best possible light.
TERRI: What would you like all planners to know about Portland and Travel Portland?
MIKE: Portland: It is an amazing city, one that you will love, and one that you will end up wanting to move to. Great, unique, convention product — your attendees will thank you for selecting Portland, and ask when the organization is returning. Travel Portland: We care, and we will take care of you. You will like us, and vice versa.