In years past, meeting planners would call a CVB and ask for 300 copies of the visitors guide. Then the planner would stuff them into 300 guest bags and hand them out to 300 attendees, “and invariably, 285 of them would go straight into the wastebasket,” said Dean Miller, national sales manager for groups for Visit Fairfax.
Like Visit Fairfax, many CVBs, meeting planners and conference attendees are relying more on mobile meeting planner apps to replace printed visitors guides and hardcopy meeting materials and connect directly with everyone involved in an event, from the planning team to the individual attendees.
“The one thing no planner wants to see is negative comments on the survey, people saying ‘Gee, we were stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do,’” Miller said. “There could have been a ton to do, but they weren’t aware of it. [The mobile app] gets rid of that problem.”
Visit Fairfax, the destination marketing organization for Fairfax County, Virginia, launched its mobile app in 2010 under a state program that helped CVBs create mobile apps. The FXVA app is a direct feed from Visit Fairfax’s website, so it’s continually updated and can be tweaked when needed.
The FXVA app provides users with lists of accommodations, attractions, dining and shopping options, nature and outdoor activities, music and arts events, nightlife and entertainment, sports and recreation, and family-friendly activities, all tied to the GPS option, which shows users where they are on the map and what’s nearby. Users can also check out special offers from local businesses and find out what events are happening while they’re in town.
With the opening in late July of the first phase of the Silver Line Metro and five new train stations in Tysons Corner and Reston, Virginia, Visit Fairfax will soon update its mobile app with a transit feature to show users the nearest stations and provide links to train schedules, said director of marketing Jackie Franchi.
“It’s meant to be something that attendees can use to fully explore the area,” Franchi said.
Today, nearly 60 percent of adult Americans own a smartphone, and 42 percent own a tablet, according to data collected by the Pew Research Center.
“The average person with a smartphone checks it 150 times a day, and if you don’t have a share of that real estate, you’re missing out,” said Jeff Epstein, director of product and channel marketing for QuickMobile, the company behind the mobile event and planners apps MobileEvent and MobilePlanner.
MobileEvent is a platform that planners can tailor to their conferences, conventions and meetings. Through a customized app, attendees can access agendas and schedules, receive notifications, talk with each another through in-app messaging, arrange get-togethers, interact with speakers in chat rooms, and even participate in games. On the back end, planners can tap into data and analytics to see who is using the app and how they’re using it.
“Once an event planner does it, they don’t go back because it’s just a no-brainer,” Epstein said. “It’s never obsolete, ever.”
Robin Jones, QuickMobile’s chief marketing officer, said that the company recently did a survey to find out the reasons that meeting planners use apps. The top three answers were to communicate and share directly with attendees, to eliminate or reduce paper materials, and to communicate directly with each other.
Attendees can look up seminars and sessions, choose which ones to add to their personal schedules, see who else will be at the conference, and find out which sponsors and vendors will be participating, all from the comfort of their home or airplane seat, Epstein said. And they don’t have to worry about missing gala events or keynote speakers because the organizer can send out push notifications to remind everyone, he added.
“As an organizer, you can communicate en masse with an entire audience anything that’s relevant: a room change or schedule change or just more promotions,” Epstein said.
Push notifications are one of about a dozen ways that MobileEvent can generate revenue, Jones said. For example, a sponsor could buy a push notification for $500 and invite attendees to visit a booth or come to a reception, Jones said. Exhibitors or vendors can also buy banner ads or splash ads, she said.
“You’re spending money on this, but you’re also able to make money from it,” Jones said.
Using an event app also allows organizers to make last-minute changes and quickly share that information. Jones pointed to a large event in Boston that was expecting 4,800 registered attendees. When 800 walk-ups arrived, “their entire agenda was destroyed the minute the event started,” she said. Using the app, planners were able to add rooms and move speakers into larger rooms.
Planners are not the only ones using the planning apps; more venues and destinations are getting on board. A conference hotel or a CVB could buy a certain number of MobileEvent licenses and use that as a selling point to attract meetings, either by selling custom apps to events or offering them for free as an incentive, Jones said.
“There’s a really interesting angle for them to differentiate themselves,” she said.