Take your meeting to Salt Lake City and you just may get your own hotel contract negotiator, free of charge. The CVB now has a dedicated staff person who negotiates hotel rates for associations.

The service was created at the behest of Miller Freeman,explains Rick Davis, president and CEO, Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. When Miller Freemanbooked the 15,000-attendee Outdoor Retailer Winter Market and the 17,000-attendee Summer Market, it had to block rooms in more than 40 hotels. That's because Salt Lake doesn't have the 1,000-room hotels of major cities.

"They asked us to coordinate their room blocks to secure not only future dates, as we do for all groups," Davis says, "but to negotiate the room rates."

The CVB agreed, appointing Kate Schoening as director of conventions and giving her the responsibility of handling the bookings. Schoening had previously served with the CVB for 10 years, and had initially developed the Miller Freeman account, says Davis. Schoening acts as an agent for Miller Freeman, and the CVB provides the funds for that service.

If it sounds like a potential conflict of interest for a CVB staffer to be on the opposite end of the negotiating table from member hotels, well, it could be, but so far the service has worked out fine, Davis says.

"We make it clear to hotels that Kate is working on behalf of Miller Freeman and not on behalf of the bureau or bureau members," he says.

Since the service has been so successful, Salt Lake has made it available to other groups, as needed. The International Association of Chiefs of Police, for example, lost its meeting planner before its October convention, and Salt Lake volunteered Schoening's expertise.

Although the CVB is not marketing the services, it has been known to exert a friendly push. In February, the National Brotherhood of Skiers will bring 6,000 people into the city. "They are an all-volunteer organization. In the past, they have all made individual reservations, contributing to mass confusion," Davis quips. "We persuaded them that we could help with their reservations process."