Convention and visitors bureaus organize their sales teams in different ways. Some assign staff to a specific market segment, such as corporate or SMERF; others assign sales managers to cover geographic regions. And a handful of CVBs assign a salesperson to focus on small meetings. Among those with a small-meetings specialist — sometimes called an executive or express meeting salesperson — are Arlington, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; and Oklahoma City.
Putting a focus on small meetings ensures that a small group doesn’t get lost amid the larger, citywide conventions that sales staff are always eager to host. It also can bolster the local economy by booking meetings into small, limited-service hotels that aren’t traditional convention properties.
In Arlington, executive meeting specialist Lauren Wright handles groups that book 50 peak room nights or less. She is new to the job, and although her leads can come from any of the other sales managers on staff, most so far have come from the CVB’s association and government sales manager. Wright distributes a small group’s request for proposals (RFPs) through the bureau’s SimpleView system; proposals are then sent directly through that system to the meeting planner. After a proposal is signed, the group is turned over to the CVB’s convention services manager for assistance with other meeting-related needs.
Visit Jacksonville shifted staffer Samantha Crouch from convention services to its new Meetings Express segment in early spring. She handles meetings of 150 room nights or fewer from start to finish. “I joke that I book them and cook them. I sell them, and then I service them,” she said.
Bookings in Crouch’s first three months show that small meetings have growth potential. By mid-June, she had booked 35 small meetings amounting to 3,037 room nights, far exceeding her six-month goal of 26 meetings.
Crouch works with all meeting segments, and her conversations with planners seem to always begin with an apology from the planner. “The planner will say, ‘I know this is a small one, but …,’” said Crouch. “No group is too small for our city. We are in no place to push business away; every group matters.”
Having Crouch as a contact offers a number of advantages for planners. She does all the legwork, so they don’t spend hours combing through websites. With her help, planners who are volunteers, like a retiree charged with planning her family’s reunion, might discover that the reunion can afford a beachfront property if they choose the right dates and a limited-service hotel. Or, with Crouch’s assistance, a corporate group that only needs a boardroom might book a small inn or hotel in one of Jacksonville’s walkable neighborhoods instead of getting lost in a downtown convention hotel.
Crouch begins by phoning the planner to discuss the meeting. If planners have an RFP, Crouch obtains it. If they don’t, she helps them create one by asking questions.
After she has a clear understanding of the meeting, she sends information about neighborhoods in the sprawling metro area that would meet the group’s needs. Jacksonville is the country’s largest city in terms of square miles, so it can be difficult to get a quick grasp of its various neighborhoods without the help of an expert like Crouch.
After planners choose which area they would like to meet in, Crouch sends their RFPs to appropriate hotels. She then collects proposals and emails them in a zip file to the planner. She always calls planners to alert them that the proposals have been sent.
Her work doesn’t end when a contract is signed with a hotel. She can provide ideas for everything from off-site dinners and outings to speakers and meeting services. She also makes sure planners have welcome packets, brochures or other materials if they need them.
Jacksonville has offered incentives to get planners to use the Express Meetings program and is now educating local businesses and associations about how they can use the program. Crouch also plans to target military reunions.
Her goal, she said, is to make small meetings a department of its own by showing city leaders that “small meetings matter and are a big bulk of revenues.”
Vickie Mitchell is the former editor of Small Market Meetings. If you have ideas for future columns, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.