THE LOCAL CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU IS AN EXCELLENT RESOURCE FOR PLANNERS
Whether it is a convention with hundreds of attendees or a retreat for a handful of executives, the key to delivering a successful event begins in the planning stage. Many questions will arise as you begin the planning process. Where to conduct the meeting? What to do when you arrive? How can you make the best experience possible for the attendees while, at the same time, meeting budgetary requirements?
To create a successful event, meeting and event professionals must utilize as many resources as possible. A resource that might easily be overlooked but can be one of the best tools for planners is the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
Throughout the region, you will find that communities of all sizes have a local representative organization whose mission is to ensure that groups have a positive experience when they visit the community. These CVBs (they can also be referred to as Destination Marketing Organizations) are staffed with people who specialize in knowing what the local area can offer.
“We are the destination experts,” explains Juanita Metzler, convention sales manager with Travel Lane County in Eugene, Oregon. She adds, “We know what is happening locally. We know all the vendors and the experience they can provide.”
“Local CVBs serve as a one-stop shop,” says Lara Watkins, director of convention sales for Visit Tri-Cities Washington, in Kennewick, Washington. “We can serve as the liaison to the local facilities and service providers. Best of all, our service is free,” she explains.
With extensive experience in assisting groups of all types and sizes, Metzler and Watkins offer their advice for planners. They explain the types of services that CVBs can provide and offer tips on how to get the biggest benefits from working with the CVBs.
BEFORE THE EVENT
The services that each CVB offers varies from location to location, based on budgets and resources. However, a common theme among them is that they recommend that planners contact them early in the development process. “The one thing we love to do is to start dreaming with the planner,” says Metzler. She explains that she welcomes planners who contact her as they are beginning to flesh out their ideas, even before they have decided on dates and venues. When the size of the event warrants it, Travel Lane County will even have one of their staff members join the organizing committee for the event.
Site selection is an arduous and time-consuming process, and it is one area that CVBs can provide valuable assistance. “Planners often don’t have the time to contact and inspect a wide variety of properties. We can help with that,” says Watkins. Whether it is suggesting appropriate facilities, gathering proposals from the venues or assisting with site visits, the experts at the local CVBs can lighten the site selection burden. “We can even arrange digital site visits of one or several properties to save the planner the time and expense of travel,” explains Metzler.
Not only are the CVB representatives thoroughly familiar with all the hotel and conference venues in the area, they are also well-versed in what activities the area offers. They can provide suggestions for off-site activities and team-building experiences that may be appropriate for the group.
DURING THE EVENT
Local CVBs can also be a great asset during your event. From welcome signs greeting attendees at the airport to resource tables set up at your event, their goal is to make visitors feel as welcome as possible. They can help attendees fill free time by pointing out interesting local landmarks and activities. “We can provide lists of area restaurants and entertainment options. For one event, we even arranged for a selection of food carts to station themselves outside the venue as an alternative to one of the conference meals,” says Metzler.
“We partner with local dining establishments to offer a program called ‘Show your Badge.’ Event attendees will receive special offers or discounts when they show their name badge,” says Metzler. Watkins explains that Visit Tri-Cities, Washington, offers a similar program called the VIP Program. Planners looking for added enticements for their attendees should ask the local CVB if a similar program is available in their city.
Another resource that is often overlooked is the CVB’s connection to local intellectual capital. Often groups are looking to add a local connection to their event with presentations about the history and people of the region. The local CVB can help any group find the right speaker for a presentation. In towns with colleges or universities, the local CVB may be able to connect groups to topic experts who can provide an added dimension to the event’s program.
The CVBs are also experts in logistics. They will help groups determine what transportation options are needed and can assist in making the arrangements. They know where you can find the last-minute supplies and services that make the event successful.
MAKING A SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIP
To get the most value from the local CVBs, both Watkins and Metzler emphasize that providing the most accurate information possible to the CVB is crucial. “The more we know up front about the group and its needs, the better we will be at providing a package of services to meet the group’s needs,” explains Watkins. She adds, “It is important for us to know what the ‘must haves’ are. What is negotiable and what is non-negotiable. Are the dates firm or is there some flexibility?”
Let CVB know about the nature of your group, do they tend to look for outdoor recreation or are they more interested in dining and entertainment? Be open with the CVB representatives about what has worked well at past events and what they would like to change. “I would be happy to reach out to the locations that have hosted the group in the past to learn what we can do to provide a good experience,” says Metzler.
An important point for planners to keep in mind is to make sure the CVB knows what the organization’s timeline is. When do you need information and what is the decision date? “Planners should also remember that they must be realistic in the timelines of their requests,” says Watkins. “We will strive to get the information as quickly as possible but sometimes it takes a bit of time to gather the information.”
“Use us, that’s what we are here for,” says Metzler. She adds, “Think of us as your local Google. We can provide information on any topic you need. If we don’t know the answer, we will find out.” Watson shares the sentiment. She says, “Our mission is to deliver a positive visitor experience. We are here to take the burden off the planner. Use us to do the heavy lifting.”
Juanita Metzler, convention sales manager
Lara Watkins, director of convention sales