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Financial incentives among the ways CVBs assist

Courtesy Louisville CVB

When the economy weakens, the number of convention and visitors bureaus that offer financial enticements to conventions and conferences increase. Such incentive programs are one of many ways CVBs assist meeting planners.

Two years ago, Minneapolis Northwest, the CVB that represents the Minneapolis suburbs of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove, noticed that most of its competitors were offering 20 percent discounts to meeting groups for a limited time.

Minneapolis Northwest decided to follow suit, but that its program would be for the long term.

“As an organization, we felt if we developed the grant program, we wanted it to continue whether the economy was bad or good,” said Brent Haugen, director of marketing and tourism.

In search of long-term solution
“Short-term promotions often times bring only short-term results and Minneapolis Northwest wanted a longer-term solution to the economic crisis and to secure future business for the area.”

The CVB developed a program that allows planners to apply for grants by submitting a request for proposal. A streamlined review and award process allows staff to quickly let meeting planners know whether a grant was awarded and for what amount.

To date, Minneapolis Northwest has awarded grants to 47 clients, plus 17 grants to hotels and venues, a total of $69,422 in funding.

It estimates that because of the grants, meeting attendees booked 11,776 guest rooms at 21 area hotel and created over $1 million in revenue for hotels and venues. Overall economic impact of the meetings booked because of the incentive is estimated at $2.4 million.

The smallest incentive awarded is $50; the largest was around $1,500.

In addition to services, the Central Pennsylvania CVB sometimes offers groups financial assistance. Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete, which booked two meetings in State College this year, qualified for the CVB’s incentive program and also received a sponsorship. Total financial assistance to the group was $3,400. The bureau also helped the group’s meeting planner secure Penn State assistant football coach Tom Bradley as a speaker.

Even newer than the Minneapolis Northwest incentive is a customized incentive program rolled out this summer by the Albuquerque CVB. Already, said Rob Enriquez, vice president of convention sales, one group has said the incentive was a deciding factor in its choice of Albuquerque as a meeting location; other clients report that they are strongly considering the New Mexico city because of its incentive.

“It is still evident that the economy is challenging so we wanted to show that the city of Albuquerque with its venue partners wanted to partner with groups,” said Enriquez.

Albuquerque customizes

Albuquerque’s incentive is customized, allowing planners to pick from among incentives. Some are aimed at affecting a group’s bottom line, such as zero attrition, free morning and afternoon breaks, hotel meal vouchers or complimentary convention center space. Others allow groups to add elements of Albuquerque, such as local VIP welcome gifts, complimentary welcome receptions and cultural presentations by a Native American flutist or flamenco dancers.

The offer applies to groups that have at least 50 room nights at peak for meetings held between now and Dec. 31, 2014. The number of incentives a group can choose increases with group size and room nights. Groups of 50 to 200 room nights pick three options from the menu of choices; those with 201 to 499 room nights pick four options and those with more than 500 room nights pick five options.

CVB asked planners what they need
As it designed its program, the CVB questioned planners about what incentives meant the most to them.

“Zero attrition is really a positive in tough times,” said Enriquez. “What a lot of planners are facing is that they lose people within the block because of the economy.”

To qualify for the zero attrition incentive, planners must supply the CVB with two years of meeting history.

“Two really big ones are the welcome amenities for attendees, which gives the meeting a ‘wow’ factor and the $10 per day food voucher, which is important for attendees who are financially strapped,” Enriquez said.

“Some of the larger conventions are looking at the welcome reception with enertainment because that is usually a big chunk of their budget,” said Enriquez.

Reunion planning

A number of CVBs recognize that reunion planners need their help. Those who plan family, military and class reunions are often volunteers with little to no background in meeting planning.

In Jackson, Miss., the CVB offers a downloadable reunion resource guide at its website as well as complimentary services, such as arranging welcome letters from the state’s governor and the city’s mayor; canvassing hotels for available rooms and rates, coordinating tours, providing brochures for information tables and complimentary lapel pins and bags. A minimum of 50 rooms per night is required for some of the services.

The Louisville, Ky., CVB has stepped up its reunion services with a free reunion planning kit, reunion planning 101-style workshops and reunion service specialists. Each year, the CVB assists more than 40 family reunions that average 100 attendees each.

The economic impact of those groups is estimated at $1.5 million.

The workshops, offered once a quarter on a Saturday since 2008, are limited to 30 reunion planners. This year’s final two workshops, in August and November, were booked up months in advance.

The CVB’s 56-page reunion planning  brochure includes a step-by-step guide to planning a reunion as well as sample itineraries, sample worksheets and forms, resources and a glossary of terms.

“This kit is designed to help both the first-time reunion planner and an experienced reunion planner,” said Peggy Riley, director of multicultural sales.

Like Jackson and many other CVBs, the Louisville bureau will also send leads to hotels and supply attendees with a Louisville souvenir and attraction brochures

Familiarization tours
For the past five years, the Greater Wilmington (Del.) CVB has held an Annual FAM/DineAround, a weekend event that introduces planners to the area.

This year’s FAM /DineAround, attended by 43 meeting planners, included a  Marketplace and reception at the Doubletree Hotel Wilmington,  the host hotel for the FAM; dinner at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa., an elaborate fondue dessert with wine pairings at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington with tax-free shopping in the museum store. The next day, planners had breakfast at the Inn at Montchanin and Spa, a visit to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa.; and visits to the Doubletree Downtown-Legal District, Sheraton Suites Hotel and the Hotel du Pont.  The event concluded with a late lunch served in the Hotel du Pont’s Christina Room.

Typically, the meeting planners arrive on Saturday and leave late afternoon on Sunday but next year’s event, in Febrary, will be expanded to three days and two nights.

The Durham, N.C., CVB created a different sort of dinearound for a client that did not have the budget for an extravagant banquet each evening of a conference.

The Durham CVB worked with local restaurants, which offered specials to the group. Even though attendees were responsible for their own meal, the restaurant specials made dining out a good value for them.

Durham CVB also created a custom map that included the dine-around choices, and helped with transportation by soliciting bids from local companies.

CVBs also spend time and money to host individual familiarization (FAM) tours. Meeting planners come to town as a CVB’s guest and sales staff typically take planners around town to see meeting and event venues.

For example, the Scottsdale, Ariz., CVB planned a FAM trip for Bill Graham with Golden Rule Marketing after meeting him at at tradeshow. The CVB scheduled a site visit in October 2010 so Graham and his client could see the top seven resorts vying for a the client’s November 2011 conference. After the trip, the client booked the 2011 annual meeting with the JW Marriot Camelback Inn Resort and Spa.