In our RFP process, we build alliances between the CVB and local preservation organizations. As a team, they put together the response to the RFP, and have to demonstrate that the city exhibits a preservation ethic and has the rich historic fabric and committed community to provide the in-depth programming that we offer. Our conference uses the city as a learning laboratory, connecting with hundreds of people in the city who tell their stories and help share the tools that they use to protect the places of importance in their city.
I could never “mine” the city and unearth these opportunities for our attendees without the full commitment of the local CVB. To me, the CVB’s role is essential, and the more they know about their product, the better off I am. I rely on them to give me options: historic hotels and unique venues and locations that may be of interest in creating our program. And it’s a symbiotic relationship – the preparation for and assistance provided to our conference can be a learning experience for bureaus, and can help them in their heritage tourism efforts as well as in marketing venues and activities to other organizations in search of great conference experiences.
Other planners can use the CVB in this same way, to find venues beyond typical hotel and convention center space to enliven their program. Why not hold an event in a cool historic theater to get people into the fabric of the city? It’s great to hear things like “Wow! I’ve never been there and it was so cool!” That’s something we frequently hear from our attendees – and they are preservationists used to cool historic places!
In Spokane, location of the 2012 National Preservation Conference, many of our conference attendees will stay in the Davenport Hotel, and hear the story of the local residents that sat down to stop the bulldozers. They’ll gasp at the restored Art Deco Fox Theater, a jaw-droppingly gorgeous historic theater that was nearly lost. They’ll love the adaptive use of a downtown power plant that now houses restaurants and offices. The Spokane CVB has been a great partner in the planning of this meeting, working with us each step of the way, and in some cases learning along with us. I am confident that, after the conference, we will leave the city a more preservation-minded place, and that our group will be amazed and inspired by what they see in Spokane.
Mid-size bureaus across the country, like those in Buffalo and Nashville, have worked closely with the local press and various government offices to publicize the public portions of our conference and enhance our programming. Even cities who ultimately don’t win our business learn from the process and make it a remarkably hard decision not to go there. In my experience, bureau staff, both sales and services, work very hard to ensure that the conference is a success.
To get the most from any bureau, planners must educate the staff about who you are and what your audience brings to the city – you get out of a bureau what you put in. In your RFP, be very clear about who you are, what your meeting goals are, and what you really need to make your meeting a success. When bureaus have this information, they can build on it to give you great return. The bureau services you, the client, but your transparency gives them a foundation to build on. And, like in any relationship, the more you invest, the more invested your partners become. I urge you to use the resource of the CVB in the city where you plan your next meeting. In my experience here at the Trust, we have had excellent working relationships with the convention and visitors bureaus in Nashville, Austin, Tulsa, Buffalo and Spokane. I look forward to working with many more in the future.