Jason Weinstein, Director of National Events for AARP, shares some great insights on meeting planning “intel,” and Destination Marketing Association International’s (DMAI’s) Terri Roberts gets the inside track.
My interview with Jason was delightful, as he was so eager to talk about the advantages of New Orleans as a meeting destination and tout all the New Orleans CVB offers planners. He is so humble and has such an interesting perspective given his time in the industry and diverse background. He has found CVBs to be valued planning partners and has a special appreciation for the city of New Orleans and the experts at the New Orleans CVB. Here’s a look at Jason’s slant on things and how you can incorporate some of his time-tested practices into your own planning repertoire.
TERRI: First, can you tell me a little about yourself and your planning background?
JASON: I am the Director of AARP’s Annual National Event. I work with a team of 15 remarkable full time event staffers in the production of our signature public event. My entire 10 year professional event planning career has been with AARP as a member of this dynamic team. Before AARP, I worked for Internet companies, and I have found that the entrepreneurial spirit in the tech world translates very well into event planning.
TERRI: How did you first become aware of the services CVBs provided?
JASON: I have been working on citywide events since 2002, and early on in my event career I read a lot about the tremendous value that CVBs can bring to the table.
TERRI: How long have you been working with the New Orleans CVB? How has your relationship with the New Orleans CVB grown/changed over time?
JASON: AARP worked extensively with the New Orleans CVB leading up to and immediately after what would have been our 2005 event (eventually cancelled by the city because of the effects of Hurricane Katrina). The team in New Orleans was first rate at the time. We re-engaged with the CVB in late 2009 as our team started to plan for our September 2012 show. The spirit was just as strong as what we saw in September 2005, but the resources and concerted focus on tourism was (and continues to be) unparalleled.
TERRI: What do you most value about your relationship with New Orleans Tourism/other CVBs in general?
JASON: With most of our shows, AARP is not working in our home city. We might have a state office in the city (in Louisiana’s case our office is in Baton Rouge), but this local staff concentrates on engaging policy and legislators at city hall and through the media. CVBs serve as an extension of our local staff, but in a part of the business community where we don’t traditionally have a strong presence, travel and tourism.
TERRI: Which specific services to do you rely on?
JASON: Our citywide show is a consumer show that people travel to attend. We are going to draw 20,000 people to our show (one common factor is that they are over 50 years old). Of these 20,000 people, half are going to travel from outside of the immediate area to attend. We look to CVBs for marketing materials (photos, b roll, collateral material), as well as to help us find value for our attendees when they travel to town, be it discounts on mass transit, local attractions, etc. The marketing machine in place through New Orleans is second to none. I have made mention of this to other cities that they should benchmark themselves against the services and support being offered by the New Orleans CVB.
TERRI: What do you think is unique about the value CVBs provide compared to other planning partners you might use?
JASON: CVBs come to the table with skin in the game and a tremendous amount of clout. Their focus is to promote a specific geographic area and they have the support of the community to ensure success. The unbiased information and guidance we receive about the destination is invaluable when creating positive lasting memories of our event.
Additionally, CVBs have the ability to advocate on behalf of their cities, providing valuable raw and finished marketing resources.
TERRI: What is most compelling to you about New Orleans as a meeting destination?
JASON: There are very few cities in the country that are easier to sell as an event destination than New Orleans. In name alone, New Orleans means so many different things to people – food, music, architecture, culture, hospitality, devastation, resurrection. Then you tell people to open their eyes when they get on the ground in town and they’ll find something else to add to the list. The experience is reborn every time you come back into town.
TERRI: Why do you choose not to go it alone on the internet when planning a meeting?
JASON: I am not bright enough to plan a meeting without the right people around me, the vendors we hire, and the CVB’s who guide us along the way.
TERRI: How do CVBs make your job easier?
The resources available through the CVB are often a barometer for how the city values travel and tourism. The more forward-thinking CVBs seem to have a city wide level of support when it comes to programs and activities for visitors.
TERRI: If you didn’t use a CVB, how would you replace their services?
JASON: Great question. I am sure we would cobble together resources through various outlets, but the time, effort, and cost would be daunting.
TERRI: What would you like other planners to know about using a CVB?
JASON: It’s like taking people to the library for the first time after they have been buying books at the bookstore for years. #1 you are going to find what you are looking for, and #2 the people you deal with at the library don’t have to worry about whether you spend money with them. CVB’s are the same way. You get unbiased opinions and access to tremendous resources in a business model that is built in the client’s favor.