When I was a kid, my father had a fear of flying, and that insured summer vacations meant one thing…car trips! As we went off to explore other states, or even towns within the state of New York, our first stop in each destination was always the visitor’s center. My father felt it was the best resource for discovering all the destination had to offer and to gather the information needed to make sure we didn’t miss anything of importance or interest. Many years later, when I joined the meeting planning profession, it was just natural to reach out to the convention and visitors bureau in the destination when I began to think of a certain city that might be able to host our show or meeting.
I really feel the CVB is in the best position to educate me on the destination’s meeting possibilities. There might be 6 or 7 hotels that could accommodate a meeting, but rather than reach out to each one individually, I can source my RFP through the CVB and have them do the legwork of gathering the information. I just see them as the “go to” resource. They are the most qualified to help me access not only the right hotel and venues to meet my logistical needs, but the right part of the city to deliver the ultimate total meeting experience. I want my attendees to be able to say we had a great meeting, and that they were able to enjoy the destination and the activities available around the hotel. I can get the most comprehensive view of any destination from the CVB expert.
When selecting Vancouver for our 2011 annual, I found the Vancouver CVB to be invaluable to the success of my citywide conference. I considered them a critical member of my “external” team and a partner in working with us in developing our program needs to engage the city and its merchants. When working on a city wide, it is more than just the convention center and surrounding hotels we are occupying, restaurants, venues for buy outs, even taxi services become critical components. My staff of 6 and I would have to devote a lot of time to understand what makes up the city, who the merchants are, and how to work with them. We just don’t have the bandwidth for that undertaking!
Additionally, If I have a last minute challenge, like a committee who needs a last minute dinner reservation and all the restaurants are sold out, I can depend on the CVB, not to “pull strings” per say, but to help the venue to understand why our function is important in the overall value to the city and future business, and they are then more likely to be open to problem solving. We obviously can’t be in any city 24/7 but the folks in the CVB are there. If I need to do something and I can’t be there, I trust them to act on my behalf.
All of this may appear to be on a fairly simplistic level, but it really goes so much deeper. For instance, our show has been in New Orleans 7 years over our 50 year history, and 2 times in the last 10 years. They know us! When we are back in the city again and begin the process of planning, there are a lot of the same people around the table. We are still working together and building a long term relationship. As we work closely and begin to know individuals personally it strengthens the CVB as our external team. I find real value in the camaraderie and long standing relationships we have developed.
Whether it is hotel rate negotiations, microsite development, citywide incentives for attendees, venue selection, site visits, or local vendor recommendations the CVB plays a vital role. They are instrumental in gathering all local key players (hotels, venues, convention center, etc.) in assisting us with getting our message across in a clear and concise manner to the larger community and our delegates, bringing them all cohesively together for a great meeting in the destination.
Honestly I can’t imagine a meeting without my external team at the CVB. No one knows the “flavor” of the city like the locals. I would advise other planners to embrace CVBs as members of your external team–your eyes and ears in cities where you don’t have a presence, but need support in your planning. Seeing is believing…once you experience and see what an asset and a resource a CVB is in sourcing, planning and executing your meeting, I would venture to say… you’re not going to be sure how you ever did it without them!