The best convention and visitors bureau Web sites go way beyond a simple online brochure and make full use of the Internet with hyperlinks, color, and graphics. To identify the standouts among CVB sites, I used the following selection criteria:
* The site loads quickly (12 seconds maximum using a 28.8Kbs-modem connection).
* The site is cleanly designed with a consistent look throughout.
* Each page of the site has a central focus.
* The site is not littered with a lot of animated GIFs, pop-up secondary browser windows, or music.
* The screen is not broken into several windows by frames unless there is an overriding navigational need to do so.
* Site navigation is intuitive (a site map is a plus).
* Everything works with no construction zones or broken links.
* Most important, content is current and relevant to the meeting organizer.
The top 10 picks 1. conventionbureaus.com www.conventionbureaus.com
Currently,conventionbureaus.com is the best Web directory of CVBs and national tourist offices (NTOs) available on the Web. With categorized and searchable links to more than 500 CVB sites, this is an excellent place for a meeting organizer to start when researching CVB services.
Another helpful directory site, with over 325 links, is the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus (www.iacvb.org).
2. Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau www.anaheimoc.org
The Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau site is easy to navigate and content rich. A major link on the home page called Meeting Planners leads to a well-organized and helpful section. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles--just lots of information.
The site contains extensive data and photos of the Anaheim Convention Center. All significant hotels (ranked in size by number of sleeping rooms and hyperlinked to meeting specifications and floor plans) are also included. The alphabetized Convention Services Directory has more than 200 categories that range from accounting to wineries, as well as street and e-mail addresses for nearly 1,000 CVB members. There is a staff listing, broken down by department and regional sales offices, that contains hyperlinked e-mail addresses.
Housing bureau information and policies are also listed, with a hot dates section. The online slide library is a particularly useful feature: It has more than 100 slides, listed in quick-loading, hyperlinked text, with clickable thumbnail images. A faxable form allows you to order the slides.
3. Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Inc. www.go2orlando.com/cvb
Built exclusively for the meeting and travel professional, the site has extensive hotel and meeting facility information, with a handy clickable map that will narrow down the search area. There is an online request for proposal (RFP) form.
Service listings include housing, an extensive array of available meeting promotion materials, and a full directory of the convention services staff, with e-mail hyperlinks and department/region listings. There is a convenient CVB member search area that can be searched by name, category, or geographic area. Also available is a nicely organized online slide information listing and order form. Site visitors can sign up online for a free hot dates monthly e-mail newsletter but, unfortunately, rate information is not available online. However, most of the meeting information on the site can either be viewed or ordered online 24 hours a day.
4. Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority www.lasvegas24hours.com/index.html
The animated marquis and the garish color scheme on the home page is fitting for Las Vegas. The first link is Convention Info, indicating that this site means business. Sure enough, the link leads to plenty of helpful information for the meeting organizer.
There are many pages devoted to convention center and hotel meeting facilities. The Las Vegas Convention Center section has a plethora of information, including a 360 degree view tour, maps, services, policies, ADA information, and a list of frequently asked questions. The Hotel Meeting Facilities section lists 85 hotels with key data that includes name, address, phone, meeting space square footage, number of guest rooms, and links to hotel Web sites. The Convention Calendar can be searched by keyword, date, type of convention or special event, and more.
The Convention Services section is an industry model: a hyperlinked list of support services such as audiovisual or banquet facilities that will take you quickly to the company contact data with hyperlinked e-mail addresses. The Hotel Hot Dates section is current and lists specific dates available at specific hotels. Hotel contacts and phone numbers are listed, but, unfortunately, not e-mail addresses. I enjoyed reading the stats in the Fun Facts section, such as the fact that nine of the 10 largest hotels in the U.S. are in Las Vegas. With a site this large, the Site Map and the Site Search links are very useful. The Web Site Survey solicits site visitors for information on what they do and don't like.
The one major flaw is that the site has virtually no details regarding CVB staff. Only the headquarters and regional sales offices are listed, with addresses and phone numbers but no staff names, departments, or e-mail addresses.
5. Hawaii Visitors andConvention Bureau www.gohawaii.com
This site's notable features start with the attractive and extensive home page. Those who link to The Islands of Hawaii can fill out a form to receive a free 122-page vacation planner.
The Meetings, Conventions & Incentives section focuses on the recently opened Hawaii Convention Center, with a very sophisticated, interactive virtual convention center tour. A clickable map brings up floor plans that give 360 degree views of 15 locations throughout the center.
The Regional Offices section contains the full staff directory, with e-mail addresses, phone numbers, areas of responsibility, and--a particularly nice touch--photos! Staff photos personalize the site and help start the relationship between meeting organizers and CVB staff.
6. Greater Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association www.minneapolis.org
The GMCVA made history as the first CVB to offer online, Web-based group housing registration more than two years ago. It still is among the few to do so directly. From the Conventions & Meetings link on the home page, surfers click on the Housing Registration Form, which takes them to a registration form demonstration area. GMCVA has recently signed on with Passkey Systems (see below), so this section may change soon.
Another innovative area is the Forms & Requests section, where postcards, stickers, brochures, visitors guides, and just about every other type of promotional item can be ordered online on one convenient page. This is a great way to use the Web site to automate the information request process.
7. New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau www.neworleanscvb.com
Despite its cluttered, inconsistent, and visually unattractive home page, this site has two outstanding features. First of all, it is multilingual, offering information in five languages (surprisingly, not many CVB sites provide this). Second, this is the only CVB site to date with a link to Passkey Systems for online hotel room reservations. Clicking the Online Reservations button at the top of the home page takes visitors to one of the most elegant housing reservation systems available. The behind-the-scenes beauty of Passkey (www.passkey.com) is that it draws from actual hotel inventory and gives immediate confirmation.
8. New York Convention and Visitors Bureau, Inc. www.nycvisit.com
Although the NYCVB home page loads like cold molasses (42 seconds with a 28.8 Kbs modem), once it finally comes up it has great content. The home page contains four main icons (visitor, meeting professional, travel professional, and press). Under the Meeting Professional link, I like the simple text message that lists the top 10 reasons to choose New York City as a meeting destination.
The greatest strength of the site, however, is its directory. Nearly everything is searchable: events (by dates and type with online ticket links), hotels (indexed by neighborhood and costs), restaurants (indexed by price, neighborhood, and cuisine), transportation, museums/attractions, nightlife, CVB member services, and much more. These search capabilities make the site quite useful for meeting organizers.
9. Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau www.bostonusa.com
The GBCVB site has a clean, easy-to-navigate design. Similar to New York, there are four main icons on the home page (visitor, press, meeting planner, and group travel), with drop-down search menus under each for areas like accommodations, attractions, night-life, transportation, and more. All have key-word searches and many additional filters. Another notable feature on the home page is the clickable Massachusetts map at the bottom that links to all of the other convention bureaus in the state.
The Meeting Planners section has a full staff directory that includes e-mail links, a promotional materials directory with a handy online order form, and press information. The site also has a link to www.meetingpath.com., a meeting planning database for the six New England states. It contains links to about 500 meeting facilities, 80 categories of suppliers, and 20 New England CVBs. There is an excellent hot dates section for last-minute meetings with 12 weeks or less lead time, and a section showing guest room availability with day-by-day inventory. There are also special offers and a sophisticated RFP module.
10. Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau www.austin360.com/acvb
The ACVB is a particularly content-rich site for a second-tier city. The second button on the home page called Planning a Meeting takes surfers to the convention services section that has information on its meeting planning, sales, housing, film, music, and public relations offices. There are links for transportation, the Austin Convention Center, other convention facilities, the airport, and more. The Accommodations link is divided conveniently into properties with and without meeting space. Unfortunately, most of the hotels are not hyperlinked to their own Web sites. Ditto for the Services Directory, which does not list supplier Web sites.
However, there is lots of visitor information, including a searchable restaurant guide, a photo gallery, an online gift shop, maps, and attraction information. There are also two interesting sections on Austin's heritage highlighting the city's rich cultural history, and a 101 Things to Do section on the arts, theater, music, and museums.
Finally, this site links to the new Austin-Bergstrom International Airport site (www.ci.austin.tx.us/newairport), which has what I consider to be one of the best virtual reality tours on the Web.