Years ago, a meeting planner friend and I headed to Yosemite National Park for a familiarization tour. On our drive there, we got lost. Several times, we stopped and asked locals for directions, but no one could tell us how to get to one of our country’s best-known national parks.
Eventually, we found our way, but the misadventure was a reminder that locals often are oblivious to treasures in their own backyards.
It’s an issue convention and visitors bureaus often grapple with. Many of us travel far and wide for meetings and conferences, but rarely do we think, “My hometown would be the perfect place for this gathering.”
Wise planners like Dru Joyce of Akron, Ohio, have experienced the upside of having events on their home turf. Joyce is the organizer of the King James Shooting Stars Classic, and although other cities have tried to lure his basketball event, James signs on with his hometown each year.
When planners hold meetings or events in their hometowns, they save time and effort. They don’t spend time on site visits. They are familiar with their city’s meeting venues and often with the people who run them. Even if their local connections are few, meeting with suppliers and hoteliers face to face rather than by phone makes it easy to build relationships.
Then, too, there is the ease of using a local convention and visitors bureau to help with everything from managing housing and registration to promoting the event.
Because the idea of meeting on the home front isn’t always top of mind, CVBs have developed programs to promote the idea. They have self-explanatory names like “Bring Your Meeting Home” and “Bring It Home.”
Some bureaus market their program passively through a Web page or a brochure. Others assertively get the word out through traditional and social media, advertising and sales blitzes.
When CVBs build awareness through these programs, there are big payoffs. For example, 22 meetings held in Providence, Rhode Island, last year were the results of leads supplied by local citizens, according to the Providence Warwick CVB.
The Akron-Summit County, Ohio, CVB’s Defy Convention program has brought that city new business. Launched two months ago, the program has resulted in seven new meetings or events, including a trade show, a community summit, an engineering conference and the Planters Peanuts memorabilia conference. Decisions are pending on seven to 10 more bids made based on leads from locals.
The CVB has marketed the program in creative ways. At a luncheon for 1,000 local business leaders, CVB-sponsored centerpieces reinforced the Defy Convention theme by turning flowers upside down in their vases. The Defy Convention Web link was supplied, and it got numerous hits during and after the lunch.
In Portland, Maine, many community partners are helping the CVB push its local ambassadors program. The Portland International Jetport has hung banners to remind travelers that the meeting they are flying off to could easily be held in Portland. Hotel sales representatives push the program when they visit corporate and association clients.
In place about a year, the Portland program has upped Local Organizing Chair leads by 73 percent.
The South Shore CVA in northwest Indiana has had a Bring It Home program for a number of years, but it recently gave it a new twist by focusing on sports events.
Each of those bureaus also recognizes locals who help attract meeting or event business. Some have annual dinners and present awards. Others post photos of their local ambassadors on the CVB’s website. Many produce videos that feature local organizers and their events as a way to encourage other locals to do the same. In the process, the organizers and their events get added visibility and publicity.
For many locals, bringing a meeting home is a matter of civic pride and duty. It is a way to share what makes their hometowns special and boost their economies. As James Mahon, vice president of marketing and brand development at the Akron-Summit CVB pointed out, “Convincing them they have important roles in the vitality of our economy is not a hard sell.”