Your company is planning its annual meeting in a brand new city, and you've been tapped to come up with the venue (“Someplace eclectic,” says your boss), the accommodations (“Different from where we usually stay,” she adds), and entertainment (“Unique to the city,” is her final decree). To top it off, the event is just three months away.
Do you shift into crisis mode, lock your office door, glue the phone to your ear, and plan a week full of late nights? Not if you heed the advice of seasoned meeting planners: Call the CVB!
“The CVB?” you might ask. “Sure, they can give me a list of local hotels, but this isn't a convention. This is just a relatively small meeting. They won't be able to help me.”
On the contrary, CVBs do much more than book hotel rooms and conventions. “All CVBs represent a great variety of local business — restaurants, retail, tour operators, rental cars, entertainment, florists, attractions, unique meeting spaces — besides hotels and centers,” says Heidi Wunder, spokeswoman for the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, Washington, D.C. The IACVB represents more than 480 bureaus in 30 countries.
“Many CVBs work as destination marketers,” Wunder adds. “They want to develop future business for the area, and they might work with local government or the chamber of commerce to draw up a marketing plan that promotes the area overall.”
Not only that, but many CVBs have a vested interest in their communities and are often part of charitable efforts and community improvement. “The CVBs want the destination to be a great place for the people who live there, too,” says Wunder.
See what you would have gained just by asking? Here are 20 more questions about CVBs, with 20 answers, that will help you make the most of them.
What does a CVB do?
Most CVBs are not-for-profit organizations that represent a specific destination. They represent most local and regional travel/tourism related businesses, and often serve as the official contact point or broker for the destination for convention and meeting professionals, tour operators, and individual visitors.
“CVBs encourage groups to hold meetings in their destinations, assist with meeting preparations, and encourage business travelers and tourists to visit and enjoy the local historic, cultural, and recreational opportunities,” says Wunder.
What's the one thing a CVB can give a meeting planner that she can't get elsewhere?
CVBs provide official, unbiased information about a destination's services and facilities, according to Wunder. They won't try to steer a planner toward a certain facility or tour operator that may be inappropriate for the event. Because they represent the community and its businesses, they can provide a wider range of information about facilities and activities than could, for example, a hotel concierge.
CVBs also provide a clearinghouse for all sorts of services. “It's one-stop shopping for a meeting planner,” says Wunder, “whether she needs a string quartet for a reception or a clown who can make balloon animals for children's entertainment.”
How do I find the CVB?
Call information in your destination and ask the operator for the local CVB. The local chamber of commerce may be able to direct you, as well. Searching the Web often turns up useful links, especially if you visit the IACVB directory at www.official travelinfo.com. It lists more than 900 CVBs, with links to their sites.
You could visit Destinations Showcase, www.destinationsshowcase.com, a one-day held at different times in Washington, D.C.; Chicago; and New York. There you can meet with sales representatives from more than 100 CVBs.
“It's one-stop shopping for a meeting planner, whether she needs a string quartet or a clown who can make balloon animals.”
— Heidi Wunder, IACVB
Who should I ask for when I call the CVB?
“If you're a meeting planner, ask for the convention sales department. If you are an independent traveler, ask for visitor services,” says Wunder. Remember, in smaller destinations, there may be fewer staff, so one person may cover all areas. But the information available and the help you'll receive will be just as valuable.
What information can CVBs provide about hotels and meeting space?
The CVB will know the number of hotel rooms, meeting space, and exhibit space available at each property and in the destination overall for your meeting dates. Convention services staff at the bureau can match your event with a property that fits your needs and budget.
How specific is a CVB's information?
Services vary from bureau to bureau, but all can recommend reliable suppliers, assist in securing hotel commitments, and act as a liaison between the organization and the community. Most can provide collateral materials and offer on-site assistance, including registration personnel and message desk attendants. In addition, most bureaus provide housing systems to handle hotel assignments and reservations.
CVB staff also work closely with the hospitality community, explains Gregg Mervis, vice president, Akron (Ohio)/Summit County Convention & Visitors Bureau, and will make suggestions to help you create memorable pre-conference activities, spouse tours, and post-conference opportunities for your attendees.
And if you're looking for people to fill educational or speaker roles, most CVBs will do the legwork to find area talent — business and political leaders or college professors, for example.
What deals, specials, and so forth, can a CVB provide me?
“CVBs can provide meeting planners with an idea of when specials may be available, especially seasonally, in a destination,” says Wunder. They can't help cut a deal, but they can connect the meeting planner with key people or recommend a more economical time of year to visit.
How does a CVB get its information?
The CVB collects its information from hotels, facilities, attractions, restaurants, shops, services, and so forth that are CVB members. A CVB not only tracks good service in its destination, but also bad service. Complaints and misrepresentation by a property or organization will go on record with the CVB.
For whom do CVBs work?
“CVBs work for the meeting planner and the tourist,” says Wunder. “Most are not-for-profit organizations funded by a percentage of visitor taxes and membership fees, if they are a CVB with members.” CVBs work in conjunction with local organizations, local government, chambers of commerce, and other local entities.
What local connections does the CVB have?
CVBs serve as a liaison among many community organizations. “CVBs can arrange for proclamations from elected officials, facilitate introductions with members of the business community, and assist with the names of local union representatives,” says Mervis.
CVBs will also help you get in touch with the local media, providing you with a source to submit press releases, offer press material and passes, and generate local interest in your event.
Can a CVB help line up security for my event?
CVBs can put a meeting planner in contact with local security companies, again, with the same conditions as any other services.
What cost is involved for using CVB services?
Generally there is no cost involved for either meeting professionals or tourists to use CVB services. In some cases, a fee for materials may be charged.
If their services don't cost anything to use, how are CVBs funded?
The IACVB Foundation completed a report in 1998 on how CVBs are financed. According to the report, most CVBs receive a majority of funding from public sources. In general, CVBs with budgets of $5 million or less rely on public funding for more than 80 percent of their total funding. Public funds come in the form of hotel room tax revenue, restaurant taxes, and city, county, and state taxes. More than half of the CVBs that responded to the survey receive membership dues, the leading source of private funding. Advertising, promotional participation, event hosting, and publication and merchandise sales top the list of private revenue.
Is a CVB interested in my small event?
“Events of 10 to 10,000 people can get assistance,” says Wunder. “The CVB is interested in making your group's experience the best it can be, regardless of size.”
How involved can a CVB get with my event?
Want to rent the art museum? The CVB can put you in touch with the right people and figure out all the logistics. But as the meeting planner, you are responsible for negotiating final prices, signing, and managing the event.
Site selection assistance is one of the most valuable services of a CVB, according to the Akron CVB. Sales managers have an intimate knowledge of local properties. Instead of making individual calls, the CVB can streamline the selection process.
How soon should I call the CVB?
Large citywide conventions are generally booked several years in advance to ensure that facilities are available. For things such as personnel assistance, several weeks is generally acceptable.
What can't a CVB do?
“CVBs cannot manage your meeting,” says Wunder. But they can connect you to a local management organization.
Are there CVBs abroad?
Outside the United States, CVBs are often called tourist boards, conference boards, or national tourist offices. Nearly every country has some sort of NTO, which will probably have local offices. Terms for meeting-related items will often vary. For example, meeting space will not always be measured in square feet.
Can a CVB help me find an unusual place to have my event?
“CVBs can offer information on both the largest convention hotel to the quaintest countryside properties that are available for rent,” says Wunder.
What if I'm setting up an incentive travel trip for my sales force?
“What makes a CVB unique is its ability to provide varying levels of service and as much or as little information as needed,” says Mervis. “Incentive travel planners will definitely benefit from a CVB's knowledge of accommodations, points of interest and dining options. Planners are encouraged to ask questions and use the resources available to them.”
What to Ask
What Can a CVB Do For You?
Need to arrange a last-minute site inspection or print brochures to promote your meeting? Just call the local convention and visitors bureau or national tourist office. Those are only two of the many services they offer — and best of all, they're free.
Also consider calling the CVB for help with:
- getting permission or special permits from local governments for an event
- providing welcome signage for attendees at the airport
- cutting through union red tape
- arranging for a special welcome from the mayor
- helping with special assistance for the physically challenged
- arranging pre- and post-event tours for attendees
- promoting your next meeting by displaying promotional material at the prior meeting
- helping to create attractive spouse and children's programs
- scheduling airport shuttle services or limo pickups for VIPs
- providing supplier contacts