“I love the [financial and insurance] meeting segment,” says Leonard Hoops, executive vice president, sales and marketing, for the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau. “They aren't as price-sensitive as the association market. They are more interested in flexibility and our ability to meet their needs.” More proof that CVBs want your business: Atlanta and Scottsdale both have CVB sales execs dedicated to the insurance and financial market. Whereas smaller corporate groups used to go unnoticed by CVBs, more and more bureaus are seeing a niche that has the ability to bring high-powered meetings and incentive programs to their destinations. And in a seller's market with tight hotel space, the CVB can be a corporate planner's new best friend. Here's a look at what some leading U.S. destinations are doing to attract insurance and financial services groups.

atlanta

THE HOST OF ONE of what may be the world's largest corporate insurance meeting (see “Primerica's Atlanta Citywide,” page 23), the Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau likes to think it can handle a meeting of any size with aplomb.

“We've got a good track record, says Bob Schuler, vice president of sales for the CVB. “It's not easy to service a huge citywide — there's a lot more risk of failure — but we've delivered.”

That's not to say Atlanta isn't interested in smaller meetings. The CVB not only has a sales executive dedicated to the insurance/financial services market, but it also has three separate sales teams handling three different-sized meetings — those needing 100 rooms a night or less, those needing 100 to 1,000 rooms a night, and those needing 1,000 rooms or more.

Affordability and a sophisticated infrastructure make the city attractive for financial services and insurance meetings, Schuler says. “It's cost-effective as a Southern destination and less expensive than a lot of first-tier cities.”

Conference facilities include the Georgia Dome, which can seat 70,000, and the Georgia World Congress Center, with three separate buildings and nearly four million square feet of meeting space.

Then there's Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The world's busiest airport, Hartsfield processed 85 million passengers in 2006. “There are more direct flights into Atlanta than any other airport,” says Schuler. “And that's crucial for a meeting planner looking to put a group here. We're cost-effective, have a hotel package that's second to none for a city this size, and we're easy to get to,” he says. “That's our pitch.”

chicago

MCCORMICK PLACE WEST is the new 720,000-square-foot addition to McCormick Place convention center. Opened August 1, it has 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 100,000-square-foot ballroom, and 61 meeting rooms. According to Mark Tunney, managing director, convention sales, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, all this new meeting space has provided flexibility for the McCormick complex to host more corporate meetings.

In the past, when the bureau booked huge trade shows, Tunney says, it was impossible to move in any kind of smaller business around those dates. Now, the opening of McCormick Place West has created some short-term scheduling gaps that the bureau is looking for the corporate market to fill.

“We can do a program with anywhere from 2,000 rooms to 6,000 rooms inside a two-year window,” says Tunney, who recently booked a sizeable financial services corporate meeting for 2008. “We wouldn't have had that option before McCormick Place West opened.”

Consequently, Tunney says, while association business has long been the bureau's focus, it is aggressively going after the financial services and insurance sector and “trying to re-deploy our sales teams” to better serve the corporate market.

san francisco

“FINANCIAL SERVICES and insurance meetings are of more than average importance to us,” says Leonard Hoops, executive vice president, sales and marketing, at the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.

For one thing, the San Francisco Bay area is an insurance and financial services hub. It has many interesting venues for small events. And the kinds of meetings this industry brings to the table fit neatly into the city's meeting mix.

Planners love San Francisco because of the city's ability to draw attendees. “We consistently beat out our competitors in the West because of our attendance-building power,” says Hoops.

The flip side for association meetings and large conventions is that high demand, combined with the fact that the Moscone Center offers just 742,000 square feet of exhibit space, means availability can be an issue. “We have some association business booking 20 years out,” notes Hoops, but corporate planners can book closer in, about a year to 18 months out, when there is still availability for smaller groups.

“I love [the financial and insurance] meeting segment,” says Hoops. “The planners aren't as price-sensitive as in the association market. They are more interested in flexibility and our ability to meet their needs. They absolutely want to know that the bureau can make sure all their room requirements are met.”

seattle

FINANCIAL AND INSURANCE meetings are becoming increasingly important for the Seattle CVB as it zeroes in on the corporate meetings market. “We decided in January of this year to increase our sales deployment for the corporate market,” says Chris Garratt, convention sales manager. “We've basically doubled our efforts to service corporate business.”

Planners can expect in-depth conversations to help “tailor the RFP process to the needs of the corporation,” he says, as well as staff support to assist with everything from researching off-site venues to contracting with local destination management companies.

Seattle already has a rich corporate base to draw from, including one of the country's largest financial services companies, Washington Mutual. As well, upscale new hotel products coming on line, such as the Hyatt at Olive 8 (opening in 2008), “will be perfect for corporate meetings,” says Garratt.

The size and configuration of the relatively small Washington State Convention and Trade Center has also influenced Seattle to more aggressively court corporate programs. The WSCTC, with 61 meeting rooms, 4 ballrooms that can be divided into 45,000 square feet of meeting space, and 205,700 square feet of exhibit space, is a “terrific fit for a company looking for a mid-size convention center with great hotel product,” Garratt notes.

scottsdale

SCOTTSDALE SCORED BIG this year when Financial & Insurance Conference Planners held its annual meeting at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in November. “It's very exciting and a big coup for us to get this program,” says Dan Tavrytsky, vice president of sales and services, insurance market, Scottsdale (Ariz.) CVB.

Scottsdale is, first and foremost, an incentive destination, Tavrytsky notes. While it lacks a convention center, it has a great infrastructure of large resorts with ample meeting space, plus 330 days of sunshine a year; plenty of championship golf, spas, and shopping; and beautiful Sonoran Desert scenery.

The Scottsdale CVB focuses heavily on attracting and serving the corporate market. Go to its Web site and you'll find a pull-down menu under “meeting planners” that allows planners to search for ideas on theme parties, green meetings, promotional materials, and so on.

“We know that we need to provide a high level of service to corporate planners,” says Tavrytsky. “And we are very cognizant of the fact that we need to save our customers time, energy, and dollars, which means fine-tuning their needs and directing them to the best fits for their program.”

Primerica's atlanta citywide

IT MAY BE the biggest corporate meeting held in the insurance industry. And it's certainly the biggest corporate meeting held in Atlanta.

Primerica, a Duluth, Ga.-based insurer and a subsidiary of Citigroup, holds its biannual convention at the Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Dome. This year's meeting, July 28 to August 5, packed 60,000 attendees into the two Atlanta venues.

The convention is a “big communications opportunity” for the company, says Jim Sharpton, Primerica's vice president, meetings and conventions. Primerica has more than 100,000 registered representatives in various global locations. Most convention attendees come from all over the U.S. and Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Spain. “It's a real opportunity for everyone to get together and see what they are part of,” Sharpton says. “And it's the one chance they have to meet our CEO face-to-face.”

A CVB Partnership

For a while the convention site alternated between Atlanta and St. Louis, but it is now held in Atlanta regularly, with dates set for 2009, 2011, and 2013. A number of factors make Atlanta and Primerica a good fit, according to Bob Schuler, vice president of sales for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “For one thing, anytime you have a good relationship with a customer in your own backyard [Duluth is a suburb of Atlanta], it goes a long way towards helping you rebook their business and form the kind of partnership you need to make their meeting successful,” says Schuler. He points out that the host facilities — the George Dome and the Georgia World Congress Center — are well equipped to handle a big citywide. This summer, Primerica used the Georgia Dome (which can accommodate 71,000 people) for the general sessions, and The World Congress Center for education workshops and exhibitions.

It also helps, Schuler says, that Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, the world's busiest airport, can accommodate the travel needs of a gigantic citywide. This year, for example, about 52,000 passengers, including Primerica attendees, were scheduled to fly out of Atlanta on Sunday, August 5, the day Primerica's convention ended — about 40 percent more than Atlanta's summer average of 37,000 passengers. Yet, Hartsfield was able to handle the traffic increase with few problems.

The Atlanta CVB was a big help with logistical planning, says Sharpton. The CVB is so important, he notes, that prior to the convention, Primerica's CEO meets with the CVB's sales managers to talk about logistics and meeting planning details. “The city gives us great support,” Sharpton says, including everything from posting meet-and-greet personnel at the airport to providing convention attendees with city maps and other collateral.

Sharpton says that while convention planning kicks in about a year prior to the meeting, “it's not our pure focus until about six months out.” Before that period begins, he spends a lot of time talking with the corporate execs at Primerica about meeting details — and getting the green light on various decisions.“Financial and insurance markets are volatile,” he says, “and executives never want to get far ahead of themselves. But when you're doing a citywide like this, you've got to get them to make decisions.”

Sharpton says that because of the nature of Primerica's far-flung workforce, there has been talk of holding a “simultaneous global convention” that could be anything from a Web conference to a simultaneous satellite television hook-up at multiple locations. There are also plans to hold 2009's general session in the round by moving the stage to the center of the Georgia Dome floor, which could accommodate up to 85,000 people.