"There are some cities that you just have to visit to know."
Michelle Jones, CMP, Director, Convention and Meeting Services, International Parking Institute, shares some great strategies for working with CVBs to save time and money!
My impression of Michelle is that she is both a passionate planner and a meetings industry advocate. She lends her expertise to industry organizations like PCMA and planner advisory boards, such as Experience Grand Rapids. She points out that some cities never truly unfold fully until you visit them, but regardless, the CVB is the best first point of contact to find just what you are looking for to ensure a perfect meeting.
TERRI: First, can you tell me a little bit about your planning background?
MICHELLE: I have worked for DC area associations since 1991. I have been very active in PCMA since 1999, and haven’t missed an annual conference since joining. I have been located in Fredericksburg, VA with IPI for the last year. It’s a growing association that is starting to dip into the international market. The most exciting thing for me is our International Parking Conference. I am now planning the their Latin-focused conference, to be held in Mexico City.
TERRI: How did you first become aware of the services CVBs provided?
MICHELLE: It was so long ago, I don’t remember! I am sure it was when I was a young planner and started getting cold calls. Over the years, I learned to engage and appreciate CVBs. It might be difficult to express in a concrete way, but I’m just a fan!
TERRI: How long have you been working with Experience Grand Rapids?
MICHELLE: For just about a year now, I have been on the Customer Advisory Board for Experience Grand Rapids. I first learned about Experience Grand Rapids during a luncheon in Alexandria, VA a couple of years prior. I sat next to Mary Manier, their Director of Sales, and I learned about ArtPrize, an open art competition held in Grand Rapids each year and was intrigued.
TERRI: What do you most value about your relationship with Experience Grand Rapids or other CVBs in general?
MICHELLE: It may sound hokey, but MOSTLY I value the relationships with the people themselves. Some of my greatest friends are industry colleagues, and most often CVB reps. At the risk of over-generalizing, I feel that CVB reps are often less aggressive than property sales people. Perhaps it is because they represent the destination at large and aren’t driven to sell a single product, but rather find solutions that work for the client organization.
TERRI: Which specific services do you rely on?
MICHELLE: Mainly I rely on information about the destination itself. Especially if the CVB expert lives in the destination…then they not only know what an attendee/visitor would need to know, but as a resident, they can be candid about other cool (or not so cool) local things to do and see.
TERRI: What would you compare them to?
MICHELLE: CVB reps are comparable to cheerleaders for a sports team, but for their city. They make us excited to come and experience their destination.
TERRI: What do you think is unique about the value CVBs provide compared to other planning partners you might use?
MICHELLE: CVBs—like hotels or DMCs—want your repeat business… but the nature of working with them seems to be a little less aggressive and more long term and collaborative. (This is not a slam to hoteliers, because some are this way as well.) They want to share the passion they feel for their cities. And if you think of the personality characteristics they generally have—happy and positive—you can’t help but like them!
TERRI: What is most compelling to you about Grand Rapids as a meeting destination?
MICHELLE: I have only been to Grand Rapids twice, but I think it is a really cool little city. It is very green and there is a lot to do! The hotels have good meeting space, and it is a very walkable and very manageable size city. It is easy to walk to the restaurants and off site events. When I walked from the hotel to the arena for a concert, I remember thinking even the parking garages are attractive! A lot of thought went into the design of this city.
It’s one of those places…if you don’t know about the city or haven’t heard of it before, you might think Grand Rapids?, but when you go there, you think…I could totally do a meeting here! There are some cities that you just have to visit to know. The national news channel I watch delivers the Pure Michigan advertisements where Tim Allen is the narrator-who ever came up with that campaign is a genius.
TERRI: Why do you choose not to go it alone on the internet, or go direct to hotel, when planning a meeting?
MICHELLE: If I am not already familiar with a destination, the CVB is the best all-encompassing resource for local information, from hotels to restaurants to entertainment, etc. They offer a lot of helpful services, from meeting promotion beforehand to onsite support with volunteers, and beyond. I use them for media contacts, logos and photos, as well as, dining and entertainment recommendations.
TERRI: If you didn’t use a CVB, how would you replace their services?
MICHELLE: In addition to our staff we use a local host committee to help plan each annual conference. If I couldn’t use a CVB, I’d have to pay someone for additional services.
TERRI: What would you like other planners to know about using a CVB?
MICHELLE: A CVB can save you time AND save you money. They have already done much of the legwork we try to do ourselves. Why reinvent the wheel? Lean on them to help you. They know what and who is dependable in their destination. They can make recommendations you can rely on, and when you realize that most of their services are free, why wouldn’t you take advantage of those services?
How are you going to find out the truth when you just do cold internet city searches? CVBs will educate you on what they know. If you communicate with them clearly about what your goals are, they can point you in the right direction. It’s in their best interest; they want you to come back to their city.