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Weaving a better website

Like busy spiders, convention and visitors bureaus are putting new spins on their websites. But instead of snaring unsuspecting prey, CVBs hope to capture the attention — and the business — of meeting planners.

To do so, the websites they weave are increasingly complex, with lots of multimedia options and cool online tools like request for proposal systems, customized convention pages, mobile applications and online itinerary builders.

Personal touches, like CVB staff blogs, testimonials from past clients and ideas and advice from local experts, are part of the package.

And the CVB websites are going greener, digitizing marketing materials to save paper and mailing costs. CVBs are also becoming more savvy, using social media to keep their clients current regarding new developments.

For many smaller CVBs, these makeovers are making a difference. Pumping up content, adding new features and making use of social media has made visitors spend more time at the Alpharetta, Ga., CVB’s website,

Comparing April 2009 with April 2010, shortly after the website was reworked, the bureau found that time spent at the site by visitors is up 200 percent.

“It is helping people make decisions more quickly because we are putting it all out there,” said Katie Reeder, the bureau’s public relations manager. “We have painted a picture in full color. For us, it is really working because people know what they are getting.”

CVBs get ideas from one another, so meeting planners will see many of the same features from site to site. “We follow about 50 other CVB websites,” said Amy Garton, interactive manager for the Overland Park, Kan., CVB and its website, “We don’t want to be the last to implement new features in the future, we want to be among the first.”

More and more specialized content
A number of CVBs, realizing their website content was lacking, have opted for major overhauls.

“One of the big weaknesses of our website was that it didn’t give anybody enough meat to be enticed to buy,” said Garton. “Our facilities weren’t listed beyond the convention center, so we have added all our other facilities to the list.”

New features allow meeting planners to highlight facilities and add them to an itinerary that can be saved.

Like a number of other CVBs that previously lumped all group business under a “Meetings” heading, Overland Park has opted to break information into more specialized categories, recognizing that the needs and interests of, for example, a sports event planner and a meeting planner are not exactly the same.

The Alpharetta bureau noticed the same trend as it looked at the websites of larger cities like Chicago and nearby Atlanta. “We took our cues from them,” said Shana Corbin, IT manager for the CVB.

Like those larger cities, Alpharetta now has its group business information divided according to market, building splash pages for each segment that include information specific to the market.

“Before it pretty much said the same thing for each market,” said Corbin. “Now it is more in-depth.”
In Bloomington, Minn., a website overhaul allowed the bureau to make its information more specific for sports events organizers. Sports venues are now categorized by the sports that are played there, according to Joell Morin, website content manager for

This allows the CVB’s sports sales staff to send out links for example that show ice hockey teams which facilities are available for their competitions.

Information about local hotels was also added. Previously, hotel logos on the site linked planners to hotel chain websites. Now links are for local hotels. “We didn’t have as much robust information as we have now incorporated,” said Morin.

A website also gives a destination the chance to tout its distinct features. Alpharetta has done so by spotlighting its Verizon Amphitheater, a popular music and entertainment venue. Its links allow visitors to book tickets for shows. “We were taking into consideration what people might want to do after the meeting,” said Reeder.

More interactivity
Blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts have become standards on CVB websites. “I think in the future there is going to be a bigger desire to be interactive with the sites,” said Garton. “People no longer want a static site.”

The Alpharetta CVB’s Twitter and Facebook accounts take a light-hearted approach to supplying information about upcoming events or after-hours options.

Overland Park’s CVB staff takes turns writing blogs on different topics. A sales team member writes a blog for meeting planners; another does an entertainment blog; a sports sales staffer writes about that market and the bureau’s executive director writes a leadership-theme blog.

In Virginia Beach, Al Hutchinson, vice president of convention sales and marketing, produces a personal blog. Among his recent topics was “Top 10 Tips for Hosting Sustainable Meetings.”
Bureaus are also making their website mobile, a nod to meeting planners’ use of iPhones, BlackBerries and other PDAs.

The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau, 40 minutes north of Houston, has added a mobile version that gives the mobile user “quick access to weather, directions, address and phone numbers of hotel and restaurants,” said Casey Snyder, the bureau’s marketing manager.

Meeting attendees will be able to do much the same in Santa Monica, Calif.,where the Santa Monica CVB recently released an iPhone application that allows users to key information from the website to find attractions, restaurants, bars, retailers and more.

A recent upgrade of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. website,, lets clients contact the convention sales team through a specialized Twitter account that has a live feed on the website. Planners and meeting attendees can ask questions and interact with the sales team through their computers or mobile devices, according to Jennifer Starkey, e-marketing manager.

Creating sub sites for meetings
More bureaus are adding a feature that allows them to create a site within their site for specific conventions or meetings.

“Sometimes the event is small and it doesn’t have its own website,” said Morin. “This (event splash page) wraps our destination around the event.”

These pages allow meeting planners to supply their attendees with valuable information,  like an event agenda or links to special hotel rates.

The process is easy for planners.They answer questions on a form that Morin send to them by email. They return the form and any art or photography to be used on the page. Morin can build the page in about an hour; meeting planners can then send the page’s link to attendees and print it on marketing materials.

More ways to be green
Bureaus are also marketing their green aspects. On its new website,, the Greater Wilmington (Del.) CVB identifies its green hotels.

Green facilities are also highly marketed on the Virginia Beach CVB website,, a logical focus as its convention center is a LEED Gold certified facility.

Overland Park found that many meeting planners no longer wanted a hard copy of a bid book and are requesting bid books in electronic format. Now, by using a template that can be individualized, the bureau can prepare customized bid books online and provide a meeting planner a special link to access it.

“If you are going to have a green meeting, you have to start at the beginning with the bid book,” said Garton.