Christie Bravos calls herself “the community concierge.” Carli Adams is “a sponge of local information.”
Both are convention services professionals, staff who step in after a meeting or convention is booked and become a meeting planner’s right arm.
“Especially because some meetings are planned by people with no experience in planning, I get to surprise and please people with a long list of things I can do to help them,” said Adams, convention services manager for the Asheville N.C., CVB. “Many don’t realize that we offer a lot of free resources.”
A good number, apparently do, perhaps due to CVBs’ success in building awareness of the services they offer. At the Bloomington, Minn., CVB, Susan K. Breen, convention services coordinator, worked with 125 meetings attended by a total of 64,000 people in 2010.
During the Asheville bureau’s last fiscal year, Adams worked with 329 groups, a number that includes social events like weddings. Still, demand for services is on the rise. “That’s up 36 percent from the year before,” she said.
Services departments vary in size and scope, but as a general rule, at CVBs that represent smaller destinations, services departments are also small.
In Fredericksburg, Va., for example, services and sales are combined, an advantage to planners, said Victoria A. Matthews, conference sales and services coordinator. “Anything we promise in the beginning we will carry through.”
In Bloomington, Breen, a 23-year staff member, is a department of one who works closely with the sales department.
In Albuquerque, N.M., each of four convention services staff works with a specific sales manager.
Coffee, tea or dry cleaning
Typical CVB services include assistance with registration, referrals to area suppliers, compiling goodie bags and making nametags. Other services, from delivering a planner’s preferred coffee each morning to removing manure from sidewalks at a horse show, are highly personalized.
The services team in Albuquerque makes frequent trips to the dry cleaners, said Cecilia Padilla-Quillen, director of convention services for the Albuquerque CVB.
“When we ask a meeting planner, ‘Is there anything we can help you with?’ a lot of times they’ll say, ‘You know, I just can’t find time to pick up my dry cleaning.’”
There are also challenging questions, such as “Where can I find zebra duct tape?” or “Can I skin an animal in the city limits?”
The first question was posed to Padilla-Quillen, who initially thought her client was kidding. On her third telephone call, to Hobby Lobby, she found the duct tape. “I said, ‘Really? Well, I need three rolls.’”
The second question, from a trappers convention, came to Matthews. The answer was yes, it is legal to skin an animal in Fredericksburg.
“We can answer those kinds of questions because we are a department of the city of Fredericksburg,” Matthews said. “If someone needs to close a street, I know the guy who I need to talk to for that. We have the connections.”
Among Syracuse’s N.Y.’s clients are the Sweet Adelines, a group that has come to the city for more than 30 years.
“One of the bigger things we do to help them is to organize their mass sing,” said Bravos, with the Syracuse CVB full time for almost 12 years.
A good portion of the 1,300 attendees gather on the courthouse steps the Friday of their convention for a public sing; Bravos makes sure that various city offices are alerted and doing their parts, that the mayor’s office is represented and that a banner, a microphone and a speaker are at the site.
“I have relationships with the venues and the various city offices so it is easy for me to make the call and take that off the meeting planner’s plate,” said Bravos.