Most convention and visitors bureaus offer a laundry list of meeting services, such as site selection, welcome bags and coupon books. But not every CVB will create custom Web-based maps for attendees, plan and staff an ice cream social or bring in a busker to lead groups in a drum session. Here are some CVBs that will.
Before Marie Woodard became the director of sales for the Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau, she used to be a meeting planner. And before Leslie Jones was hired as the CVB’s services coordinator, she worked in event planning and catering for hotels. So both Woodard and Jones know what planners must deal with, and their expertise is at the core of the agency’s meeting services.
When she was a planner, Woodard didn’t like starting with a sales contact and then being “dumped over” to someone on the services side, even if she had questions for sales. At the Kerrville CVB, Woodard said she and Jones do something unusual: They purposely tag-team and overlap on events so that they both handle services.
“Here, and not many places do this anymore, no matter who contacts either one of us, we can help them,” Woodard said, adding, “For us, it comes down to old-fashioned service.”
Both also work with planners to listen to their concerns and do what it takes to “wow” their attendees. For example, the CVB provided a special turn-down service for one group because the planner wanted to wow the event’s VIPs. Those guests went back to their rooms to find their beds turned down and steaming hot chocolate and warm cookies waiting for them.
“We could do something that was low cost but was over the top to show we cared,” Woodard said.
Many planners are surprised to discover Kerrville offers on-site help with registration and name badges and even acts as a concierge desk to answer attendees’ questions and give them recommendations. For large groups, the
Kerrville CVB will also help staff events, like it did when it put together and manned an ice cream social for the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association.
“When you’re on this side of things, you know how overwhelmed they are and all the craziness that can come up during a meeting,” she said, “so there’s no request too small for us.”
Richmond Region Tourism offers many tried-and-true services for meeting planners: help finding speakers, sending out RFPs and arranging discounts at local restaurants and shops. But the agency is expanding both its staff and its services.
“Our services have probably increased tenfold from a year ago,” said Nancy Bass, sales manager for Richmond Region Tourism. “Now, it’s so much more for attendance boosting, generating excitement about the destination, getting attendees to come a day earlier and stay later.”
In April, Richmond Region Tourism hired Matt Robinette as the agency’s director of convention and sports services, expanding its services employees from two to three and giving the services staff a director.
Robinette, who came from the Virginia Beach CVB, brought with him a focus on technology-based services that “could be as simple as a logo and a link on their website or as detailed as a landing page on our website,” he said.
Richmond Region Tourism also creates e-cards, which are similar to a digital “save the date” for an event, and will research a group’s demographics to come up with appropriate messaging for e-newsletters, which the agency will write and send out.
The organization also does social media campaigns that include Twitter, Facebook and blogging, and provides planners with photos and videos to help promote the destination via their website and emails.
From his desk, Robinette can also build custom, interactive Web-based maps for groups that have a certain number of room nights. For example, if a large group is meeting at a hotel, Robinette can put together a custom map that shows surrounding restaurants and attractions and allows planners and attendees to “drill down to specifics like Asian restaurants that serve large groups,” he said.
Although the visitors guide is still the agency’s most-used service, both planners and attendees are becoming more tech savvy, “so that online content is important,” he said.
No matter which destination a planner is considering, that city has a set number of hotel rooms and a set number of meeting venues, so “the infrastructure and what you can sell is what it is,” Robinette said.
“What’s going to differentiate destination from destination is services,” he said. “That’s what’s really going to set you apart. They recognize that [in Richmond] and are certainly invested in it.”