In the Internet age, people expect to find almost everything they need online, and meeting planners are no different. While online requests for proposals (RFPs) have become standard operating procedure, more and more CVBs are providing meeting facility video tours, attendee registration services, housing bureaus, microsite creation and other Web-based tools in an effort to make meeting planners’ lives easier — and win their business.
Rapid City, South Dakota
As the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau prepares to launch its new website this month, staff is also preparing to update the CVB’s existing online tools for meeting planners and introduce new ones.
The CVB expects to launch its new website at VisitRapidCity.com in late February, along with a new brand and a new logo, said Lisa Storms, director of sales and servicing. With the new website launch, the CVB will streamline its online RFP submittal process to ask planners for less detail up front, making the RFP submission process faster and easier, she said.
The CVB also provides online video tours of meeting facilities, including the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center and every hotel in the city that has meeting or convention facilities. The Rapid City CVB added the virtual tours a couple of years ago, Storms said, but the agency will likely update its video tours shortly after the new website launches.
Storms said the virtual tours give planners a chance to see not only the space but also how other groups have used it. The online tours are also easier for planners to share with their associations or selection committees.
“It allows them to form a better opinion of the location without wasting time, and time has almost become more valuable than the dollar,” she said.
In addition to the virtual tours, the CVB’s website also provides the floor plans, the square footage and meeting room capacities for each convention facility and hotel with meeting space. The Rapid City website also has testimonials from other meeting planners because “you’re more apt to trust the judgment of someone who’s been here or held a meeting here,” Storms said.
Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, Maryland
The new VisitAnnapolis.org website is only a year old, but the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau is planning to launch a refresh of its meeting planner content this month.
The meeting section of the website will still have the same look and feel, but the agency is restructuring and reorganizing the content so it makes more sense and is more accessible to meeting planners, said Ben Isenberg, director of partnership relations for the CVB. The relaunch will also break out information specific to the type of meeting or event, he said.
About a year ago, the Annapolis CVB began offering to create and manage attendee microsites for large or citywide events, Isenberg said. Recently, the CVB built a website for the 2013 Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman.
When the CVB was planning its new website, the agency also wanted to increase its search functionality, so the website now includes a search tool that allows meeting planners to sift through facilities and hotels by the number of guest rooms, the number of meeting rooms, the largest meeting room available or the facility’s total square footage.
Another tool allows planners to search for vendors and service providers, including catering, transportation, audiovisual services, and decor and rentals, and meeting planners will even find a “Unique Venues” section on the website.
Isenberg said the CVB also wants to add a similar search function for large group dining options that would allow group travel planners or meeting planners to search for restaurants based on the number of people they need to seat.
About four years ago, Visit Cheyenne introduced complimentary online registration services through CVENT for any conference or event with more than 250 room nights, said Jim Walter, director of convention sales, and the service has become “a main draw” for the agency. The CVB also covers the credit card merchant fees so the event collects the full registration fee. Handling online registration for larger events also allows Visit Cheyenne to seamlessly manage name badges and attendee lists, he added.
“We got to the point where we have associations and meetings that continually come back to Cheyenne because we offer that service,” he said. “We’ve become part of their staff in a way.”
For larger events, Cheyenne also creates mobile websites with information such as schedules, speaker bios, sponsors, attendee lists and more, then includes the QR code on the back of registration badges so people can easily access the site via their smartphones and tablets.
“We’re seeing a growing number of people using that,” Walter said. “I know I’m the guy who always leaves the program in his room and has to ask the guy next to me what’s next.”
Visit Cheyenne also provides some tools that aren’t online per se but that allow people to connect online more easily. The first is a charging station that the CVB lends to conferences for attendees to charge their phones, tablets and laptops. Another is a photo kiosk that the CVB recently bought and that it brings to events. The photo booth allows events to create custom layovers and borders, and attendees can email their photos or share them on Facebook and Twitter. The photo booth has been “very popular with our attendees,” Walter said, and it helps build awareness about the event and about Cheyenne.
“You see people having a great time at a conference, and you think, ‘Maybe I should go to that in the future,’” Walter said.
Although many meeting planners still prefer hard copies, Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau staff are finding that many, especially those who are newer to the industry, prefer to have access to the Jackson meeting planner guide online, said Shun Hatten, vice president of sales.
The Jackson CVB also provides its attraction guide and its restaurant guide on its website and has an online RFP submittal form, Hatten said.
For larger conferences and events, the CVB will create event microsites, a service the agency started offering about three years ago, she said. For example, the CVB created the website for the Jackson Rhythm and Blues Festival; see it at jacksonrhythmandbluesfestival.com.
The CVB is also considering creating a housing bureau, Hatten said. When a meeting or conference chooses Jackson, the CVB would offer online hotel reservations that link to specific hotels and to the event’s room blocks and special rates. The housing bureau would allow the CVB to manage housing and room blocks throughout the registration process, Hatten said. The CVB is waiting for the completion of a new hotel that is breaking ground before launching the new service, which Hatten said would likely be in mid-2015.