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Sweetening the Deal with Incentives

Convention and visitors bureaus are gold mines when it comes to complimentary meeting services and often offer valuable cash rebates and incentives to attract new planners to their destinations.

Meeting incentives can range from simple services like creative welcome signs and gift bags to big benefits such as reimbursement on airfare and facility rentals. These steppingstones can be especially beneficial for planners who are either new to the industry or looking to expand their business.

For more insight on how planners can take advantage of these reward programs, we spoke with representatives from several convention and visitors bureaus across the country. Here are some of the most important points they wanted meeting planners to know.

Reduce Rental Costs

Some of the biggest costs of any conference or meeting are the rental fees, and some convention and visitors bureaus are prepared to help planners cover a significant percentage of those charges. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a program called Brighter Meetings that includes cash rebates on facility rentals for up to $10,000 during eligible dates from 2018 to 2021.

“The Brighter Meetings program has been very successful and well received,” said Ed Simon, senior vice president of convention sales and services at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We give away thousands of dollars a year, and it’s certainly increased the demand for groups using our convention center.”

As with many reward programs, this cash incentive is based on the number of booked room nights. Planners booking between 50 and 300 rooms can earn a $3 cash rebate per room night paid, and those booking more than 300 can earn a $4 cash rebate per room night paid. In addition, the program applies only to groups that book at least 10 or more guest rooms in a Broward County hotel, and the rewards cannot be combined with other convention and visitors bureau incentives. Incentives are paid no later than 30 days after the event has occurred and final room night counts have been verified by the hotel properties.

Customize Incentives

Many reward programs can be customized to accommodate a group’s needs, so it is always advantageous to speak with the convention sales department to find out what offers might be available. Depending on the planner’s budget and other factors, the convention and visitors bureau might be able to provide complimentary convention space, special rates on city transportation, local keynote speakers and more. 

“We personally try to match the incentives to whatever the customer needs, whether it’s transportation between various hotels and venues or a cash rebate to the master bill,” said Simon.

These price differences can make a dramatic difference for new planners. As a medium-size city, Fort Lauderdale often attracts meeting planners who are transitioning their events from a conference hotel property to a midsize convention center and are looking for affordable means of growing their businesses.

“Planners will see a substantial increase in their overall costs during their first few years of trying to expand their business, and our ability to help with transportation and other costs they wouldn’t normally have with a convention hotel can create a lot of comfort,” said Simon.

Budget is not always the defining factor with negotiating incentives. In some cases, organizations like the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau will offer to price match the incentives available in other destinations.

“We always try to stay competitive in the CVB world for our size of a city and with the meeting space that we offer,” said Alexandra LeBlanc, director of sales at the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau. “If we hear about new offers on the market, that’s when we have a conversation about whether we can match that and bring that event here.” 

Consider Your Qualifications

Many incentives apply only to new business or groups that have not visited the area in several years. The Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau in Louisiana offers up to $3,000 in rebates to meeting groups that have not hosted an event in the city for at least two years.

“The only catch is that it has to be new business for the city, but we use the term ‘new business’ loosely,” said Aly Velasquez, marketing assistant at the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau. “Our CVB is awesome because we offer big city amenities in a small town. This reward program really does help take off some of those costs in an already affordable destination for both the planner and constituents coming.”

Another common requirement for cash rebates or incentives is that there are no previously signed contracts that run through the campaign dates for the upcoming event.

“You have to work directly with the CVB. You can’t sign a contract with a hotel and then try to take advantage of incentives,” said LeBlanc.

In 2019, the Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau will begin offering a referral program that offers incentives to local organization members that help bring their meetings to the area. Both event organizers and the person who provides the referral will receive benefits from the program.