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What Friends Are For

Event planning is like life — we get by with a little help from our friends. And the greatest friend to any meeting, conference or event planner is the local convention and visitors bureau (CVB).

Sometimes they prefer the title “destination management organization,” or DMO, but no matter what they’re called, they streamline the event planning process, answer questions and act as a one-stop shop for planners. But how can planners make sure they’re capitalizing on every opportunity a CVB offers? Check out these tips from industry experts to learn what to look for and how to make the most out of CVB relationships.

Get Involved Right Away

To maximize a relationship with the local CVB, it’s important to seek their assistance right away.

“As soon as you know you’re considering a location, reach out to them,” said Brandie Putnam, senior convention services manager at Choose Lansing. “They can lighten the load.”

In addition to answering any initial questions and providing information for the city, the CVB can help arrange a site visit.

“Once the shortlist is created and we’re going to a site visit, that’s when we’ll reach out and get the CVB involved,” said Mike Ferreira, founder, owner and CEO of Meetings Made Easy, a meeting services company consisting of meeting brokers and event planners. “They would help me then with the agenda for the client, including restaurants, off-site activities, hotels and the best way to show them around.”

These site visits are a great way to determine if a venue will ultimately be the best fit for an event. And CVBs will usually be more than happy to provide transportation around the city, free or discounted hotel rooms and sometimes even reimbursement for a planner’s airfare.

Another reason to get involved early is minimizing the points of contact for planners. They won’t have to waste their time coming up with venue lists, vendors in the area or off-site activities, because that’s something the CVB can provide. Their lists can be specialized too, from local voluntourism initiatives to diverse businesses to patronize.

“If you start from the beginning, you get that seamless service with the CVB all the way through,” said Michelle Guevara, director of destination experiences at VisitGreenvilleSC. “Engaging a CVB from the start of a planning process can also maximize a funding incentive.”

However, Guevara also noted there isn’t a bad time to involve CVBs; they can be brought into the conversation to help at any point.

Create a Better Attendee Experience

A CVB can help attendees have a good time outside of the meeting, and that will ultimately help a planner by boosting attendance and overall satisfaction with the event.

“If a CVB knows your event is coming into town and we’ve worked with you closely, we’ll do what we can to make your attendees feel welcome,” said Putnam.

This can include letting local destinations know the group will be in town, so they can offer discounts or special services to attendees. Many towns have tourism ambassador programs, which engage qualified locals in tourism-related tasks, such as holding welcome signs and giving recommendations for restaurants and attractions.

“They know the places to eat, things to see and do, festivals, concerts and whatever local pieces can tie into your event,” Putnam said.

Some of the least known perks a CVB can provide planners are financial in nature, which quickly add up and benefit the attendee experience in a roundabout way.

These promotions benefit the group’s budget, Ferreira said, and “will ultimately allow them to spend some of their dollars on group outings or receptions. That creates a better experience for the attendee.”

CVBs already offer planners huge savings in time and resources and because most of their services are free. But many of them offer packages as incentives to book meetings in their cities. These can range from room rebates to venue sponsorships to discounted deals on transportation or venue rentals.

“Newer planners are often surprised by the ability to receive financial incentives,” Guevara said.

Additional financial perks include savings on things like marketing and promotional materials. To help market an event, many CVBs provide free social media content, images and video in their meeting planner toolkits.

“They want you to have the best attendance, so many will help design save the dates or digital ads,” Putnam said.

Some CVBs provide microsites, a unique branded web page or collection of pages that can be created to promote an event. These sites often have their own domains and URLs, so an attendee can quickly find information about the event or the city where the event is being held. These are a great, paperless tools to engage attendees, and like many additional CVB resources, they’re free.

Modern Problems Require CVB Solutions

Changes in the meetings and events industry in recent years have yielded a consistent set of problems. Planners have noticed staff shortages, both on their end and on the supplier side. There’s also the issue of businesses closing unexpectedly, vacated positions, supply chain issues and high turnover rates.

CVBs can help planners tackle all these newfound industry problems. If a certain venue is struggling with staffing or hours, they can both prepare planners for this reality or even assist them in finding a solution.

“CVBs often have really strong relationships with local hotels and other venues,” said Guevara. “They understand what’s needed on the planner side and what the hotel has to offer, and can initiate those conversations and identify areas where they can get ahead of potential challenges.”

Guevara gave the example of attendees arriving late to a hotel where the hotel restaurant doesn’t stay open late. In that case, a CVB could act as a liaison and communicate that need to the hotel and work out a solution, whether that’s scheduling additional staff to keep the restaurant open late or suggesting a nearby restaurant as an alternative. Either way, the attendees would be prepared.

In some cases, the CVB can help provide staff, either with their connections to local staff agencies or by enlisting their city’s tourism ambassadors. Whether it’s manning a registration booth, assisting with event setup or helping guests with wayfinding, these additional hands can be extremely beneficial.

“If you’re dealing with an event planner that has a short staff and they’re a one-man show, they can reach out to the CVB,” Ferreira said. “As far as short staffing, they can help speed up the process of finding the solutions.”

A CVB can also help planners get ahold of local venues and vendors if they’re having trouble reaching them due to changed business hours or business closures.

“We might know the person or someone else at the facility,” Putnam said. “We’ve said ‘let us go over there and see if their doors are still open.’”

Labor shortages and higher turnover in the industry mean that some industry professionals may lack expertise or experience. A CVB can pick up the slack by being the expert in their area. They’ve seen countless meetings and events held at their destinations, so they’ll know the usual pain points to watch for, as well as the most effective strategies to ensure success.

“There’s an element of being an expert in the community and having all that background information,” Putnam said. “We know the easier or more constructive things to recommend, and we have new ideas that we can pull from our bank of knowledge.”