More and more convention bureaus are giving corporate meetings a second look. And in a seller's market with tight hotel space, planners are realizing that the CVB can be an invaluable resource.
Here's what four leading U.S. destinations are doing to attract corporate groups.
The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau has organized into three sales teams handling three sizes of meetings: those needing 100 or fewer rooms a night, those needing 100 to 1,000 rooms a night, and those needing 1,000 rooms or more. The city's major conference facilities include the Georgia Dome, which can seat 70,000, and the Georgia World Congress Center, with three buildings and nearly 4 million square feet of meeting space.
Affordability and a sophisticated infrastructure make the city attractive for corporate meetings of all sizes, says Bob Schuler, vice president of sales. “It's cost-effective as a Southern destination and less expensive than a lot of first-tier cities.”
Then there's Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The world's busiest airport, Hartsfield processed 85 million passengers in 2006. “There are more direct flights into Atlanta than any other airport,” says Schuler. “And that's crucial for a meeting planner looking to put a group here. We're cost-effective, have a hotel package that's second to none for a city this size, and we're easy to get to.”
McCormick Place West, the 720,000-square-foot addition to McCormick Place convention center, opened August 1 with 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 100,000-square-foot ballroom, and 61 meeting rooms. According to Mark Tunney, managing director, convention sales, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, all this new meeting space has provided the flexibility for the McCormick complex to host more corporate meetings.
In the past, when the bureau booked huge trade shows, Tunney says, it was impossible to move in other business around the dates. McCormick Place West has created some short-term scheduling gaps that the bureau is looking to the corporate market to fill.
“We can do a program with anywhere from 2,000 rooms to 6,000 rooms inside a two-year window,” he says. Consequently, Tunney says, the bureau is aggressively going after the corporate sector.
Planners love San Francisco because of the city's ability to draw attendees. “We consistently beat out our competitors in the West because of our attendance-building power,” says Leonard Hoops, executive vice president, sales and marketing, at the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The flip side for large conventions is that high demand, and the fact that the Moscone Center offers just 742,000 square feet of exhibit space, mean availability can be an issue. “We have some association business booking 20 years out,” notes Hoops, but corporate planners can book closer in, about a year to 18 months out, for smaller groups.
“I love the corporate meeting segment,” says Hoops. “The planners aren't as price-sensitive as in the association market. They are more interested in flexibility and our ability to meet their needs. They absolutely want to know that the bureau can make sure all their room requirements are met.”
The Seattle CVB is also zeroing in on the corporate meetings market. “We decided last year to increase our sales deployment for the corporate market,” says Chris Garratt, convention sales manager. “We've basically doubled our efforts to service corporate business.”
Planners can expect in-depth conversations to help “tailor the RFP process to the needs of the corporation,” he says, as well as staff support to assist with everything from researching off-site venues to contracting with local destination management companies.
Seattle already has a rich corporate base to draw from. And upscale new hotel products coming online, such as the Hyatt at Olive 8 (opening this year), “will be perfect for corporate meetings,” says Garratt.
The configuration of the relatively small Washington State Convention and Trade Center have also influenced Seattle to more aggressively court corporate programs. The WSCTC, with 61 meeting rooms, four ballrooms that can be divided into 45,000 square feet of meeting space, and 205,700 square feet of exhibit space, is a “terrific fit for a company looking for a midsize convention center with great hotel product.”
Regal Sun Resort, formerly The Gros-venor, Orlando, has appointed Efrain Vargas national sales manager for the Southeastern corporate market. He previously worked at the International Plaza Resort & Spa in Orlando.
Benchmark Hospitality International has promoted Mara Xenos, CMP, to director of conference services for Eaglewood Resort & Spa in Itasca, Ill. Xenos has been with the resort since 2002.
Meeting Professionals International has named Graydon Dawson, EdD, director of knowledge. He will be responsible for expanding live- and distance-learning offerings and will be based at MPI's Dallas headquarters.
National Business Travel Association's NBTA Foundation has appointed Fay Beauchine, exec. vice president, Carlson Marketing, chairwoman of its 2008 board of trustees. Katina Tryforos, Deloitte Services LP, was named vice chairwoman.
On March 1, Marilyn Carlson Nelson will step down from her role as CEO of Minneapolis-based Carlson, handing the job over to Hubert Joly, president and CEO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel. She will continue as chairman of the board.
Primerica Takes Over Atlanta
Sixty thousand attendees. Fifty-seven hotels. Two gigantic venues.
In the biggest corporate meeting ever held in Atlanta, Primerica, the Duluth, Ga.-based insurance company, brought its biannual convention to the Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Dome last August.
The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau was a big help, says Jim Sharpton, Primerica's vice president, meetings and conventions. Working with the convention bureau was so important, in fact, that before the convention, Primerica's CEO met with the CVB's sales managers to go over all the logistics.
“The city gave us great support,” Sharpton says, including everything from posting meet-and-greet personnel at the airport to providing convention attendees with city maps and other collateral.
About 52,000 passengers, including Primerica attendees, flew out of Atlanta August 5, the day the convention ended — 40 percent more than Atlanta's summer average of 37,000 passengers. Yet Hartsfield International Airport handled the increase with few problems.
All this added up to big business for Atlanta when Primerica, which used to alternate its convention between Atlanta and St. Louis, decided that it will now be held in Atlanta regularly, with dates set for 2009, 2011, and 2013.