Planners seeking VIP access to a destination should look no further than its convention and visitors bureau (CVB).
These destination experts have all the most current details of an area’s attractions and vendors, which means they can assist at every level of planning an event by providing a friendly, helpful link to the tools planners need to succeed. This can be especially true when planning an event in an unfamiliar city, but even a planner’s local CVB can be an invaluable resource.
Building strong relationships with CVBs ensures a planner will have a knowledgeable partner throughout the event-planning process, in addition to gaining access to a wealth of resources and necessary information. Here are some ways experts encourage planners to make sure they’re getting the most from their relationships with CVBs.
To form strong bonds with CVBs, first planners need to be introduced to them. One of the best ways to do this is at trade shows and conventions. CVBs from around the region or even the country will send their sales teams to meet planners and spread the word about the destination appeal of their city.
“Our entire strategy around those is to build and solidify those relationships with planners,” said Jonathan Brashier, vice president of commercial strategy for Visit Greenville SC.
Stopping by each booth to say hello to the CVB representatives from every city may seem a little taxing, or a little like speed-dating, but these initial introductions can be the foundations for solid relationships that later lead to successful events. Every industry event is an opportunity to build on these relationships. It’s likely if a planner attends many of these events or shows, they’ll eventually start to recognize the same faces.
CVBs have large networks of their own and frequently help planners make critical connections and introductions with vetted industry professionals. Planners can use their CVB contacts to track down anything from a suitable venue to party favors for attendees.
“We view the CVBs as a quality location to find people that work in the events industry full time,” said Heather Pilcher, CEO and executive director of Blue Spark Event Design. “We use their relationships with local vendors and local hotels to start the design.”
Bethany Letcher, director of convention services at Visit Spokane, said that another way to network and make connections with CVBs is by simply reaching out or responding to them. Letcher encourages planners to “take a quick five minutes to have a call, get to know each other and learn about the resources we provide.”
Use Their Resources
One of the biggest perks of a good relationship with CVBs is access to their long list of helpful planning resources and services specific to their destination. CVBs have huge banks of current information to share with planners and being familiar with the CVB ensures a planner can use it.
“If we built a good relationship from the start, they know they can use us as a resource,” Letcher said. “We’re their liaison to everything Spokane has to offer.”
These resources can be as simple as an updated directory of venues and vendors in a city. Especially in the years after the pandemic, navigating contradictory online information about business hours and closures can be challenging. CVBs will have updated information on the newest vendors, intelligence on which properties are undergoing renovations and up-to-date news on changes in business hours and business closures.
Many CVBs also offer excellent meeting planner toolkits, which contain a collection of information about a city’s most prominent meeting spaces and downloadable and shareable PDFs and images for planner use. These can streamline the planning process and even help planners market their event.
Another helpful service CVBs sometimes provide to planners is a FAM trip, or familiarization trip.
“We get invited to FAMs, which are a really good use of time in cities you are unfamiliar with. You get to build a relationship and have someone you can call in the future,” Pilcher said. “If you can go, go. The time and experience is invaluable.”
FAMs usually showcase the best of each destination. Some CVBs offer additional incentives, like free airfare or free hotel rooms to planners to encourage them to check out their destination. While many planners are strapped for time, site visits and trips to the destination are among the most useful way for a planner to max out everything CVBs offer.
Maintaining a positive relationship with a CVB is like maintaining any positive relationship: It requires communication, and specifically, details. CVBs need information from planners to put their best offerings forward and help in the best way they know how.
“Clear communication and a timely response are very important when the CVB is trying to reach out and grab information about hotels and venues,” Brashier said.
Timeliness is important on both sides because everybody’s busy and nobody wants to waste their time. But if they’re relying on CVBs to secure great rates on a package of hotel rooms for attendees, that may be an especially time-sensitive issue, which is something planners should keep in mind.
As far as the event itself, the more details a planner gives the CVB, the more assistance they can provide.
“We want to know about their event, if they’re planning off-site events, because that’s how we can come in and help them,” Letcher said. “Being open and willing to work with the CVB will ultimately pay off.”
For example, Visit Spokane helped plan an event that was centered around sustainability, interactivity and voluntourism. Because this was communicated to Letcher upfront, she was able to organize activities that were a good fit for the event and the group, such as visits to the local recycling and composting plants.
Pilcher agreed and said that in addition to communicating details about the event’s logistics, planners need to be willing to discuss their vision and their client’s vision with the CVB in detail. That’s something that shouldn’t only be communicated by email.
“We like to be on the phone and explain the vibe they’re looking for,” Pilcher said. We try our best to over-communicate up and down, because if everybody knows the goal of the conference, the best foot is put forward.”
Stay in Touch
CVB representatives know the last thing planners want is an influx of CVB marketing materials cluttering their inboxes. That’s why many are turning to more intentional ways of chasing leads and attracting planners, and this all stems from strong relationships with planners.
“They want to talk to us when it’s meaningful and specific,” Brashier said.
The more a CVB gets to know a planner and the types of events they typically produce, the more accurately they’ll be able to pitch their cities and services to them. Planners can turn to traditional ways to stay updated, like subscribing to newsletters or email campaigns that will let them know all the latest happenings in a destination. Or they can check in with a phone call or email from time to time. However, if they are very familiar with a CVB, they’ll often get ideas, updates and leads curated just for them.
“We want to hear about anything brand new that might be of interest,” Pilcher said. The CVBs who know a planner well can tell what news does or doesn’t apply to them.
If a planner is chasing a lead that ends up not working out, no matter the reason, it’s courteous to let the CVB team know so they’re not wasting their time. Keeping up communication and following up even when things don’t work out allows CVBs to adjust their sales strategies and craft better experiences for planners. It also keeps everyone working together in an efficient and positive manner.