The 2019 Small Market Meetings Conference was held in a football-crazy town — Green Bay, Wisconsin — and in the middle of a game week at that. The conference competed with a Thursday-night home game between the Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Touring the town in their off-hours, conference delegates were right in the middle of the city’s busy pregame preparations.
“We’re showing off Green Bay to you in hopes we’ll attract new business to our community,” Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich told delegates. “Obviously, you all know about the Green Bay Packers. But we’re a lot more than just the Packers. We have an incredible downtown and a safe, clean and vibrant community growing more successful every day. We’re grateful to have you in town.”
Conference organizers were pleased they chose Green Bay.
“We signed them five years ago, and they really wanted us,” said Joe Cappuzzello, conference president and CEO. “They redid their convention center and wanted to showcase it. They’ve put themselves in a whole different league with great ballrooms. It’s really first-class. There’s so much to see and do here: big city amenities in a second- or third-tier city.”
At the opening session, Mac Lacy, a conference partner, put the meetings industry into perspective. “More than 250 million delegates gather each year for one or more of the 2 million meetings held around the world,” he said. “The meetings industry generates over $300 billion a year. So you are all in a very big industry.”
Meeting Planners on the Hunt
The main goal of the Small Market Meetings Conference was to get 100 meeting planners in front of as many of the 250 industry reps as possible in two marketplace sessions. Thousands of six-minute meetings helped generate new leads and bookings.
Planners put in a lot of work at the conference. One of them was Sara Van Hook of the International Senior Softball Association in Manassas, Virginia.
“We look for new cities to bring our softball tournaments to, and I’m looking to pick some this week,” she said. “We also need hotels for our managers meetings. The players like fun destination cities because activities are important.”
John Gailer of the National Dropout Prevention Center in Anderson, South Carolina, was another planner.
“I look for cities and venues for a series of meetings throughout the U.S.,” he said. “We do three or four large conferences per year and 10 to 15 smaller events.”
Paul Brown came from Atlanta’s Phillips School of Theology.
“My goal is to provide the best meetings experience for our attendees wherever we meet,” he said. “That includes transportation, lodging and dining.”
Carolyn Mercurio-Dove of the University of South Florida in Tampa books sites for administrators.
“I’m here to network with hoteliers and others,” she said. “The people I’m booking for are vice presidents, professors from the College of Medicine and different departments throughout USF.”
Patricia Roeser represented an unusual organization: Clowns of America International in Woodbury, Minnesota.
“I’m looking for a site for our 2021 national convention and keeping 2022 in mind, too,” she said. “We just had it in Las Vegas, so we’re looking northwest or southeast next.”
Various convention and visitors bureaus sent representatives to the conference to promote their cities as meeting destinations. Shawn Ballard from Discover Kalamazoo in Michigan was one of them.
“I’m meeting new people and introducing them to Kalamazoo,” he said. “Many people haven’t been to our community or even been to Michigan. I’m showcasing what our community offers for meetings and events. Our downtown is our greatest selling point.”
Derek Feyerherm of the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau in Nebraska shared a similar message.
“We’re here to tell the Lincoln story and inform people about all the exciting changes,” he said. “We’re a college town and state capital. Both are located near downtown. There’s a synergy between state government, the university and the city.”
“I think we’re the best destination in Florida for small market meetings,” said William McBroom from the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. “We’re an authentic city, the oldest in the U.S., and have great beaches, shopping and dining. Since we’re not top-tier, we offer better value.”
Jeannie Tatum came for the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau in Tennessee.
“My goal is to sell our city and bring more business to it,” she said. “We have a big-city feel but are a small area. We’re known for being walkable, are located on a river and have large musical events and nice restaurants.”
Penny Bergsten of the Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, West Virginia, had good selling points.
“We’re in a wonderful location and have the Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course and are on a lake with a 170-slip marina and in a state park with miles of trails,” she said. “There’s quite a bit to do.”
Fun and Food in Green Bay
During the Small Market Meetings Conference, delegates got to experience some of Green Bay’s signature attractions and enjoyed meals and entertainment hosted by other meeting destinations.
During an afternoon of sightseeing tours, delegates were offered five options to visit: the National Railroad Museum, a place full of railroading and American history; the gorgeous Green Bay Botanical Garden; the tribal village of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, just outside of Green Bay; the Automobile Gallery and its beautiful antique car collection covering every decade of the past century; and finally, the Neville Public Museum, which presents artifacts about Green Bay’s history, science and art.
The Greater Green Bay CVB sponsored the first night’s dinner at the KI Convention Center. Breakfast the next morning was provided by the Emerald Coast Convention Center in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
“People like to say our area in the Florida Panhandle looks like the Caribbean,” said Emerald Coast spokeswoman Aline Ibanes. “But you’re actually in the U.S. and don’t have to fly internationally. It’s not hard to get to. We have our own airport.”
The local Preble High School Marching Band also greeted delegates at that meal.
MSC Cruises in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, sponsored lunch that afternoon. “We’re growing by tremendous bounds, and that’s scaring me because we’re building ships and have to fill them,” said company spokesman Wayne Peyreau. “We’ll have many more ships by 2027. I can’t do this without you.”
That night’s dinner was remarkable for two reasons. The group toured exciting Lambeau Field and enjoyed food and drinks in one of the stadium’s exclusive spaces. Then the group motored over to the Radisson Hotel for dinner, followed by a remarkable Native American dance demonstration by young members of the Oneida Tribe, which operates the hotel’s casino.
Visit Juneau, the destination marketing organization for Alaska’s capital city, sponsored the last breakfast of the conference.
Conference Speakers Share Meetings Insight
Speakers at the Small Market Meeting Conference shared insights on customer service, meetings contracts and new technology.
Keynote speaker Bob Pacanovsky urged everyone to provide a “black-tie experience” for customers by connecting with them and making customers so happy that they become business ambassadors.
“Fifty percent of all purchases today are by word-of-mouth influence, and 91% of business-to-business purchases are done by word of mouth,” said Pacanovsky. “Less than 1% of companies have an active strategy to get customers talking. But if they do, their loyal customers are four times more likely to refer your company to someone else.”
Greg Nahmens of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration urged those who arrange ground transportation for groups to “Look Before You Book” for safety.
“People trust their lives to the decisions you make,” he said. “To make that safe and informed decision easy for you, we provide the information you need just by coming to our website.”
Lisa Sommer Devlin, an expert industry lawyer, spoke about common contract myths.
“One of the biggest is that you have the right to cancel a contract up to three days after you sign it,” Devlin said. “There is no such rule in common law, which applies to all states, or such a federal law. So before you put your name on that dotted line, make sure the deal is exactly what you want it to be.”
Technology expert Jim Spellos told the audience about new developments invading the industry, things like augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, conversational bots, 3D printing, facial recognition and 5G.
“What is going to keep your job and stay hot is your innate creativity,” he said. “This industry and our jobs are changing. If you’re real comfortable just doing simple logistical stuff, then push it up a notch. It’ll be easy for artificial intelligence to do some of that. But AI can’t change your critical thinking or creativity.”
New Summit Announced for Small Market Meetings
During the Small Market Meetings Conference, organizers announced a new gathering of meeting planners and representatives from destinations, hotels and conference centers. Called the Small Market Meetings Summit, this boutique event will include 25 meeting planners with representatives from 25 destinations for 12-minute meetings. The condensed format is designed to push the sales process forward. The Summit is scheduled for Panama City Beach, Florida, May 13-14. Details are available on the Small Market Meetings Conference website at www.smmconf.com/summit.
Next year’s Small Market Meetings Conference will take place October 4-6, 2020, in French Lick, Indiana. Joe Vezzoso, vice president of the historic resort’s operations and sales, looks forward to it.
“We found these conferences bring to us a lot of different market segments that normally wouldn’t visit the resort,” he said. “Small Market Meetings Conference will also get those delegates out to visit the resorts and areas around them. It’ll be a beautiful time of the year for them to visit.”