Over the last year, I've noticed that the word "change" is being incorporated into nearly every industry meeting. No wonder! Technology is creating a new world for most businesses. Even convention and visitor bureaus, those sales and service organizations that have transformed themselves into destination management organizations (formerly destination marketing organizations), have become diversified agencies, with some going into what, only five years ago, would have been considered unthinkable. Some examples: the Pittsburgh bureau invested in amanagement company, and the Salt Lake City bureau is turning its housing bureau into a third-party housing company, managing housing for associations meeting in other cities. Some bureaus are being operated by for-profit management companies, which is the case in El Paso, Texas, where SMG runs the bureau and the convention center.
Even IACVB has started its own for-profit venture, the Official Travel Information Company, incorporated in Delaware, and long-time Milwaukee bureau head Bill Hanbury is leaving to head up the for-profit dot-com venture. Clearly, this is not business as usual.
From my perspective, all this is a natural step in the continuing evolution of CVBs. From my personal experience of nearly 20 years in a government-based CVB, it appears that a major opportunity may be starting to surface.
The major advantage for CVBs to become for-profit lies in the lessening of dependence on the lodging tax. Many CVBs are taking a commission for Internet room sales and housing activities. I think for-profit bureaus have the opportunity to offer equal or better service to the customer. True, they will be driven by profit, but good operators recognize that high levels of service equal higher profits.
So, where are CVB's headed? Are for-profit bureaus the new phenomenon? Perhaps for some, but not for all. Much of the change will be dictated by local governmental agencies that control the distribution of lodging tax dollars. If real value is seen in contracting with a for-profit company, the change will happen soon. This will be especially true if those local governments can find a way to keep more of the lodging tax for other uses. Many CVBs today are being asked to do more with less. That's a real challenge, given the rising cost of manpower, in addition to the rapidly changing technology and the costs of keeping up.
The real test of for-profit CVBs will be how well they perform in the eyes of you, the meeting planner, as well as the local government and corporate community. If bookings meet or exceed expectations, the local entities will usually be satisfied. If you as a planner receive quality service at a fair price, for-profits are likely to be accepted.
In the final analysis, some things never change. High booking numbers coupled with quality service will make a CVB successful and an asset to the meetings industry.