Here's a question: If you had the choice of having someone prepare a meal for you, or preparing the meal yourself, which would you choose?
Pretty easy choice, huh?
Then stop wondering whether you should work with a convention and visitors bureau. Like excellent chefs, they're ready to provide you with a smorgasbord of services for your meeting.
Even in this slow economy, CVBs are working hard to get the word out about their cities — and doing whatever they can to tighten their bonds with meeting planners.
“CVBs still offer the same kinds of services as they have in the past,” says Lisa Sanborn, events and office manager for Larson Worldwide Inc. “They know it behooves them to provide all the services that companies have come to expect. They cannot afford to cut back on services.”
Kristen Yancey, research and communications coordinator for the Washington, D.C.-based International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, agrees.
“The number and kinds of services provided haven't changed at all,” she reports, “but the effort has definitely been stepped up. CVBs want to do everything they can to make sure the company has a positive experience — they're aware they have to put their best foot forward.”
Evidence of that mindset is a public education campaign being carried out in conjunction with the Convention Industries Council. The campaign targets corporations and touts the importance of face-to-face meetings. The campaign was kicked off in The New York Times in May, and American Airlines passengers throughout that month heard a three-minute audio interview with Mary Power, CIC president.
Individual CVBs are getting the word out, too.
The Philadelphia CVB is completing a brochure that specifically targets the corporate customer, pitching the plusses of the bureau and letting planners know what the CVB is all about.
“It'll target those people who might not think they have a need for a CVB's services — everything from hotel and restaurant information to public relations material,” explains Jim Herrmann, the Philadelphia CVB's vice president of convention sales. “It'll show them we have a heck of a lot to offer at no charge.”
That means for free.
“Basically, we offer the same services to all customers, from the small meeting planner to the bigger convention planners,” adds Herrmann. “Planners should see a CVB as a partner in the process. For example, we can distribute their needs to 100 hotels, consolidate the information that's returned, and send that information back to the planner, leaving them free of the process. It can really save some a lot of time.”
The menu of services that CVBs typically offer to planners is rich and varied. And, say sources, they can prove to be crucial ingredients in the recipe for a successful meeting.
Services vary from bureau to bureau, but all can recommend reliable suppliers, help secure hotel commitments, and act as liaisons between the organization and the community.
One fear that many meeting planners have is that once they give a CVB their information, that info will be farmed out to each member of the CVB and the planner will be swamped with solicitations. But Herrmann says to have no fear.
“We'll keep the information confidential,” he says. “It'll only go out to those venues that the planner specifies and that suit the planner's individual needs.”
The following are just a few of the services that most CVBs provide:
Meeting facility information — Find out about the availability of hotels, the convention center, and other meeting facilities.
Transportation Network — Use the CVB to find out about airport shuttle service, livery and taxi services, bus, train, and airline schedules, and any local public transportation that might make your attendees' lives a little less hectic.
Destination Information/Event Venues — Get the scoop on local restaurants and interesting venues. Many restaurants have private rooms in which you can host a special reception or dinner. And there are still other venues you may never think of using — but the local CVB knows all about them.
Government/Community Relations — There's nothing better than to have a contact in city hall, and the CVB is that for you. The bureau can help you sort out legislative, regulatory, and municipal issues that could affect your meeting. Some can even arrange for proclamations from elected officials and assist with contacts in local unions.
And if you want to draw attendees from the region, many CVBs have a public relations department that will help you get the word out to local media and businesses — with everything from press release distribution to assistance with press conferences.
Talent Search — Many CVBs will help a planner find local talent — experts, business and political leaders, college professors, local celebrities — to fill speaker needs.
Housing and Registration Services — Housing reservations for meeting attendees can be made through many local Convention and Visitors Bureau. CVBs can often provide registration clerks and message clerks for on-site assistance, as well as other registration services to help you fine-tune your event.
Attendance Promotion — Want to attract attendees? Then spotlight all there is to do in the city. With many people adding vacation days on to business trips, a city with a lot to offer can be a big draw. Most CVBs will provide you with brochures and visitor's guides to include with your literature. And they can help you create memorable pre- and post-conference activities and spouse tours.
Unbiased Information — Since CVBs represent a destination in an official, unbiased way, they won't steer a planner toward an inappropriate venue.