CVBs, CTBs, DMOs: Nearly every destination of a certain size has some kind of agency to help attract out-of-town visitors and out-of-state events to its city. These agencies exist to help people make the most of the destination, but some meeting planners don’t use convention and visitors bureaus, and many planners don’t use them to their fullest potential.
“If you go to the CVB first, we can be your liaison to the entire community,” said Jessica Schenkel, vice president of Visit Topeka. “We can open the doors to the community.”
The best way to start is the simplest: by contacting the convention and visitors bureau.
“I think it’s always good to make that initial contact and ask the question ‘What is it you can do to help us bring this meeting here?’” said Jim Walter, vice president and director of sales and marketing for Visit Cheyenne.
Getting the Most From CVB Services
“The first contact is finding a facility that accommodates their needs,” said Beth Ulatowski, director of destination sales for the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau. The agency can facilitate a request for proposals, putting out an RFP to area hotels for the event. In Green Bay, after CVB staff send out the event information to facilities and after facilities come back with their proposals, “we always invite them in to see the property firsthand,” Ulatowski said. “It’s important for them to see not only the facilities, but also the city, to see what it’s like, to see what there is to do, to get a feel for it.”
Many CVBs will help planners with familiarization tours and site visits. If Cheyenne is on a planner’s short-and-serious list, Visit Cheyenne will cover travel costs to bring the planner to town to visit various meeting facilities and off-site venues.
CVBs can also help curate proposals. Because CVB staff are destination experts, “we put it out to the [hotels] that make sense,” Walter said. The CVB knows which hotels can accommodate 150 attendees and which work great for 35 people.
Visit Cheyenne puts together destinationwide proposals that compare apples-to-apples bids, plus any incentives, like an offer to sponsor the opening reception.
Additionally, CVB staff can connect planners with trusted vendors for services like catering and transportation and get quotes for the event, said Schenkel.
CVBs often pitch in to help with registration, both online and on-site.
Visit Cheyenne will build an online registration site, manage online registration and collect all the payments; doing that provides a hidden incentive because the CVB “will also eat the credit card fees, so you’re not having to pay those,” Walter said. “If your registration is $100, you get $100 back, not $97.”
CVBs can provide staff to help with on-site registration: assembling name badges; checking in attendees; setting up information tables; and stuffing welcome bags with visitors guides, area maps and coupons to local businesses.
“If you want us to, we’ll integrate with your team and become extra hands while you’re in market,” Walter said.
Event promotion is another area where CVBs can assist. In Topeka, if an event fits certain parameters, like a regional or national conference, Visit Topeka will build an event webpage and promote the event on social media channels.
‘Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Us’
Planners who know to contact CVBs usually know to ask them for help with hotels and transportation and registration, but CVBs offer a slate of other lesser-known or little-used services.
For larger groups, Green Bay has its own online housing program, which it developed and manages on its own. So for groups that are using two or more hotels for an event, the Green Bay CVB will block their inventory in the online program, allowing attendees to go to the website and choose their hotel and room from within the block.
“Because it’s our own, it’s something we can offer to groups complimentary,” Ulatowski said.
Green Bay can also help with give-back events. Planners are increasingly looking to incorporate service projects in their events, and the CVB will offer both suggestions and connections for appropriate charities or nonprofits.
Visit Cheyenne has a fleet of trolleys and can provide complimentary trolley service, like moving people from the hotel to an off-site activity, which saves money on motorcoaches. The agency can also provide guided trolley tours of the city as a group activity.
One of the most important CVB services isn’t a bullet point on any brochure because it’s helping with whatever the planner wants or needs.
CVBs can step in when things don’t go as planned. When a speaker cancels at the last minute, the CVB can tap local talent to find a replacement. When the caterer goes out of business, the CVB can recommend trusted alternatives.
The agencies can also help planners organize interesting, one-of-a-kind receptions, dinners, outings and activities — things the planner may not even know to ask for.
Visit Topeka will arrange behind-the-scenes brewery tours, private wine tastings and after-hours access at attractions. The agency once planned an evening event with a giant tent set up on the grounds of the Kansas governor’s mansion for attendees to enjoy a cocktail hour and watch the sun set over the Kansas River.
“We can open the doors to the community,” Schenkel said. “We have a lot of connections, and we can be creative. Maybe it’s something that hasn’t been done before — just ask us.”
Navigating the New Normal
With all the upheaval and uncertainty in the age of COVID-19, CVBs are more important than ever and are offering more help than ever.
Visit Topeka’s top priority is flexibility: flexibility in how they offer FAM tours, flexibility in contract terms, and flexibility in working with planners however they feel most comfortable.
“Everything has changed,” Schenkel said. “We want to make sure we know what their needs are and are being flexible for them.”
The CVB has been hosting virtual site visits, taking a laptop or iPad and walking planners through a facility. If a planner wants to visit but doesn’t feel comfortable riding in the same car, a Visit Topeka staffer will drive separately or provide the planner with information to go alone.
“We want to meet them where they’re at, wherever that may be, and let them know we’re willing to work with them,” Schenkel said.
Visit Topeka has also nearly tripled its incentive offerings, which are based on room nights, “because it helps the clients and our hotel partners,” she said. Events are facing more COVID-19-driven costs, like providing face masks or sanitation stations, so planners can use the cash incentives to help offset some new costs or use it for regular expenses, like marketing. “They get the check the second the meeting is over,” Schenkel said.
The Green Bay CVB recently debuted virtual FAM tours on its website. Regional meeting facilities recorded videos for planners to learn more about a property; some talk about their venue, and others provide walk-throughs of the property.
Green Bay also put together an online COVID-19 toolkit that offers planners information on any mandates, recommendations or guidelines for events in Green Bay.