Getting connected to the Internet is becoming essential for CVBs seeking a competitive edge. The Web provides a revolutionary means of communication that uses text and graphics interactively to generate leads and revenue that is unlike any means of promotion in years past. And today's CVBs are using the Web to its fullest potential.

When it comes to using technology to promote a destination, the Vancouver Convention and Visitors Bureau has it down. When a meeting executive sends an online RFP, the CVB responds online with a personalized message written on a postcard-like image of the city's skyline by night.

Ed Nielsen, president and CEO of the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus (IACVB), recently received one of these postcards welcoming IACVB's board of directors to Vancouver. "It's really colorful and a great way to leave a distinct impression," he says.

CVBs' Tech Toolbox Another creative way CVBs have been using the Web is to attach a video clip giving a brief tour of a property. Says Nielsen: "CVBs that learn how to market themselves with technology in this way will gain a competitive edge over those that don't."

He uses the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB)--which has positioned itself as a state-of-the-art CVB--as an example. A year and a half ago, the GBCVB teamed up with 19 other CVBs in New England and an IT company to put all lead distribution online at www.meetingpath.com. All sales leads are now sent out electronically, equipping the 3,000 supplier-members with an electronic database of RFPs. Meeting executives also have access. They can create bid lists using suppliers in the database who fit their criteria and then send out RFPs directly from the site.

"All CVBs need to do what Boston has done," says Nielsen. "They need to look to the future and figure out how to generate business with the help of technology."

Create a Technology Pipeline Once a CVB is up to speed with technology, it needs to make sure its members are as well. That's because, he predicts, it's only a matter of time before corporate execs begin using the Web for initial site inspections. "Although online site visits will never replace the real thing, over the next few years they will definitely expand."

They'll also expect to confer with their suppliers via online videoconferencing. "With software such as Picture Talk, for example, more and more meetings are held online," he says. "And videoconferencing software will become much more affordable soon--probably within the next two years." --Christa Zevitas