CONVENTION AND VISITORS bureaus across the country are pushing hard to attract meeting attendees, offering a wide range of services from voicemail blasts to custom Web sites — often at no or very low cost.

“Associations have become much more strategic in working through the issue of attracting membership to attend meetings,” says Brad Weaber, CMP, senior vice president of Conferon Global Services, a meeting-services company based in Twinsburg, Ohio. “More and more bureaus are realizing that aside from providing a great destination that makes logistical sense, they need to be the best business partner in helping to address this spoken need by the association marketplace. Some associations are working with very limited resources and whenever a partner can help fill a gap or be a support to the event experience, this is a huge plus in the eyes of the planner and association executives.”

Here are five CVBs that offer the latest in attendance-building services.

Chicago's High-Tech Help

The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau offers an array of high-tech attendance-building services, including a list-generation service called Data-Chicago. With DataChicago, “we can look at Standard Industrial Classification codes, and we can pull prospects from parallel industries. When the American Gastroenterological Association was here in May, we pulled data records and clinics from within a 50-mile radius of Chicago,” says Meghan Risch, director of public relations for the Chicago bureau.

Chicago also offers an enhanced version of DataChicago, called Data-Chicago II. “It's a bit more analytical in that it will look at a list of exhibitors from your last show, and it will do an analysis to say what similar companies might fit your exhibitor profile that maybe you haven't considered targeting in the past,” says Rose Horcher, CEM, Chicago's managing director of bureau services.

TeleChicago is Chicago's telemarketing service. For May's Digestive Disease Week 2005, the bureau used Data-Chicago to identify more than 4,500 organizations that represented potential attendees, which the bureau then targeted with TeleChicago. “We made almost 3,000 calls to area clinics to boost registration and drive traffic to DDW's Web site,” Risch says. “We don't have the final figures, but what we're hearing from DDW is that the attendance in Chicago has far outperformed their past shows.”

With a new service called TeleBlasting, “We can prerecord a message for a group and send it out to prospective attendees to help generate interest in that event,” Horcher says.

The Chicago bureau will also promote a conference at the prior year's event, and will work with meeting planners to develop traditional direct-mail pieces to supplement high-tech services. The bureau offers a Digital Marketing Kit for this purpose — a CD that contains postcard templates, ad templates, e-mail templates, photos of the Chicago area, logos, icons, maps, Chicago history and facts, and other Chicago-centric information.

Philadelphia Pushes e-Promotion

In partnership with the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau has developed a new program to target meeting attendance called the Electronic Convention Promotion Program. The program has three main components: custom Web sites, e-promotions, and onsite surveys.

“The convention services departments and the marketing communications departments work together to reach out to potential attendees of selected conventions to encourage them to register for the convention — and also to come early or stay later in Philadelphia,” says Sarah Hines, senior marketing and communications manager for the Philadelphia bureau. “Through the program, registered attendees then receive customized e-promotions and, once on location in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, they can complete an online survey.”

The Philadelphia bureau's custom Web sites feature the city and any special events and exhibitions that are taking place at the time of the meeting. “Most of these Web sites see an average of 5,000 page views,” Hines says. The sites are typically promoted in pre-registration materials by the association holding the meeting.

Philadelphia's e-promotions are specialized e-mails developed by the marketing communications department, then sent by the association or meeting planner. Each e-mail includes a link to the association's customized Web site.

The last component of the program — on-site intercepts — are short surveys that are posted on computer kiosks and wireless tablet PCs at the event. These surveys ask attendees and exhibitors specific questions about their experience with both the convention and the city of Philadelphia. “The information is collected in real-time so any potential issues can be immediately identified and solved,” Hines says. “The results are also shared with the meeting planner, which can help them increase their attendance at future conventions or trade shows.”

Hawaii Hosts Convention TV

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau provides a wide range of traditional attendance-building services, such as pre-promotion at the prior year's conference and print collateral on the state's accommodations, meeting facilities, restaurants, attractions, and activities.

Hawaii supplements these services with Internet-based marketing tools, including flash digital postcards and e-newsletters, which include links to resort and activity Web sites. “We provide clients with marketing messages and allow them to use our flash campaign technology to promote Hawaii meetings that they can e-mail to members,” says Michael Murray, CMP, CMM, CASE, vice president of sales and marketing, corporate meetings and incentives.

Near the actual date of the event, the HVCB sends welcome letters to potential attendees from key tourism leaders, such as Rex Johnson, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. These letters thank “attendees in advance for bringing their business to the islands and pledging their support for the meeting and the clients they represent,” Murray says.

As a follow-up to the welcome letters, the HVCB also provides “Aloha!” telephone calls. “For those coming to Hawaii, we say ‘mahalo’ (thank you) for coming and describe what they can expect to enjoy,” Murray says. “For those who haven't made a commitment, we gently encourage them to sign up and describe the activities being planned.” “Aloha!” phone operators call a targeted database provided by the meeting planner.

In addition to the serv-ices offered by the HVCB, the Hawaii Convention Center can promote future meetings by broadcasting information to screens in the convention center and to roughly 28,000 Waikiki hotel rooms. The convention center can offer this service because of a partnership with Convention Television, which is based in the center.

CTV can also create 60- to 90-second packages for planners, available for streaming on both association and CVB Web sites. “CTV is individualized to the client's needs,” says Randy Tanaka, director, sales and marketing, for the convention center. “We videotape introductions with the association executives, which are narrowcast on the association's Web site and at the meeting the year prior.” Any group who uses the HCC can purchase a package through a separate contract with CTV. Previously available only in Hawaii, CTV is in the process of expanding to other cities, including San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.

The HCC also offers targeted Web marketing to Asia Pacific, with a focus on Japan, which accounts for roughly 20 percent of the center's business annually. “We translate splash pages for associations from English to Japanese and link them to the association's site,” Tanaka says.

Orlando Prints Your Program

The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. offers a comprehensive list of attendance-building services, including customized Web sites, e-mail blasts, promotional stories on Orlando, assistance with distributing and pitching stories about meetings, pre-show promotion at the prior year's event, Orlando images and logos, informational videos, and customizable print pieces.

Orlando's customized Web sites are typically accessed through a link on the association's meeting Web site. “We include all the information about shopping alternatives, dining choices, recreational venues — anything they're interested in knowing about the destination,” says Mark Nelson, vice president of convention sales and services for the Orlando/Orange County bureau.

As far as the e-mail blasts are concerned, “typically, we'll create the e-mail blast, we'll include marketing information about the destination, and then we'll provide the e-mail to the organization. Then they will send it directly to their membership from their location,” Nelson says.

Orlando's print pieces include both postcard and brochure shells that can be imprinted with a group's message, and a poster that features local hotels and attractions, with a blank area that can be customized with an association logo and the date of the next year's meeting.

Unique to the Orlando bureau is its publications department. “We have the ability to print annual programs for conventions that come to town, which a lot of bureaus don't have,” Nelson says.

Another useful feature is the bureau's research department, which provides survey services. Surveys can be conducted post-show to glean information to help increase attendance for the next year's meeting.

Toronto's New Toolkit

Tourism Toronto, Toronto's Convention and Visitors Association, is also taking a proactive approach to attendance-building.

Just launched in July, the Toronto Attendance Building Toolkit is a customizable, ready-made marketing campaign for the meeting and convention industry. Available to event organizers with confirmed Toronto region bookings, the online Toolkit can be accessed with an ID and password 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at www.torontotourism.com/toolkit.

Tourism Toronto will also attend the meeting the year prior to promote the destination. “Quite often, we do offer two return tickets that can be used as a door prize or registration raffle to encourage delegates to attend their Toronto convention,” says Kathryn Wakefield, director of client services for Tourism Toronto.

CHICAGO EXPANDS

RSNA's Exhibitor Base

The Radiological Society of North America, which holds its annual meeting in Chicago each year, used the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau's DataChicago II service for its 2005 meeting. “They pulled approximately 8,800 records from a 300-mile radius of Chicago for RSNA to promote its one-day exhibit registration,” says Janet M. Cooper, CMP, director of convention operations for RSNA in Oak Brook, Ill. According to Cooper, the 2005 data pull yielded a 3.9 percent return on investment.

Chicago also rolled out the “We're Glad You're Here!” program for RSNA. “They provided personalized banners to welcome domestic and International attendees at O'Hare airport,” Cooper says. Overall, she is more than pleased with the services offered by the Chicago bureau. “They are excellent to work with and eager to partner with their clients to build professional and exhibitor attendance, in addition to offering programs that make our attendees feel very welcome once they arrive in Chicago,” Cooper says. “They offer an array of resources on their Web site — a very forward-thinking bureau.”