You've just found out that your annual conference meeting is being held in a new city, one with which you are unfamiliar. What do you do next? Heed the advice of seasoned religious meeting planners: Call the host city's convention and visitors bureau.

“The CVB?” you might ask. “I know they can give me a list of local hotels, but this isn't an enormous convention. This is a relatively small meeting. They won't be able to help me.”

On the contrary, CVBs do much more than book hotel rooms and conventions. “All CVBs represent a great variety of local businesses — restaurants, retail, tour operators, rental cars, entertainment, florists, attractions, unique meeting spaces — besides hotels and centers,” says Heidi Wunder, spokeswoman for the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, Washington, D.C. The IACVB represents more than 480 bureaus in 30 countries.

“Many CVBs work as destination marketers,” Wunder adds. “They want to develop future business for the area, and they might work with local government or the chamber of commerce to draw up a marketing plan that promotes the area overall.”

Not only that, but many CVBs have a vested interest in their communities and are often part of charitable efforts and community improvement. “The CVBs want the destination to be a great place for the people who live there, too,” Wunder says. See what you would have gained by asking? Here are 20 more questions (and answers) about CVBs that will help you make the most of them.

  1. What does a CVB do?

    Most CVBs are not-for-profit organizations that represent a specific destination. They represent most local and regional travel/tourism-related businesses, and CVBs often serve as the official contact point or broker for a destination for convention and meeting professionals, tour operators, and individual visitors.

    CVBs encourage groups to hold meetings in their destination, assist with meeting preparations, and encourage business travelers and tourists to visit and enjoy the local historic, cultural, and recreational opportunities.

  2. What's the one thing a CVB can give religious meeting planners that they can't get elsewhere?

    CVBs provide official, unbiased information about a destination's services and facilities. They won't try to steer a planner toward a certain facility or tour operator that may be inappropriate for the event. Because they represent the community and its businesses, they can provide a wider range of information about facilities and activities than could, for example, a hotel concierge.

    CVBs also provide a clearinghouse for all sorts of services. It's one-stop shopping for a meeting planner. If you need an organ for general sessions, for example, the CVB can help.

  3. How do I find the CVB?

    The first thing to do is look up the CVB in RCMA's Who's Who in Religious Conference Management. Searching on the Web often turns up useful links, especially if you visit the IACVB directory at www.officialtravelinfo.com. The directory lists more than 900 CVBs, with links to their sites.

  4. For whom should I ask when I call the CVB?

    Again, first check in RCMA's Who's Who in Religious Conference Management for the contact person in your destination city; that person specializes in religious meetings and will be sensitive to your needs. You also can call the CVB and ask for the convention sales department. Remember, in smaller destinations, there may be fewer staff at the CVB, so one person may cover all areas.

  5. What information can CVBs provide about hotels and meeting space?

    The CVB will know the number of hotel rooms, meeting space, and exhibit space that is available at each property and in the destination for your dates. Convention services staff can match your event with a property that fits your needs and budget.

  6. What specific types of information can a CVB provide?

    Services vary from bureau to bureau, but all can recommend reliable suppliers, assist in securing hotel commitments, and act as a liaison between the organization and the community. Most can provide collateral materials and offer on-site assistance, including registration personnel and message desk attendants. In addition, most bureaus provide housing systems to handle hotel assignments and reservations.

    CVB staff also work closely with the hospitality community, explains Gregg Mervis, vice president, Akron (Ohio)/Summit County Convention & Visitors Bureau, and will make suggestions to help you create memorable pre-conference activities, spouse tours, and post-conference opportunities for your attendees.

  7. What deals, specials, etc., can a CVB provide?

    CVBs can provide religious meeting planners with an idea of when specials may be available, especially seasonally, in a destination. They can't help cut a deal, but they can connect the planner with key people or advise a more economical time of year to visit the destination.

  8. How does a CVB get its information?

    The CVB collects its information from hotels, facilities, attractions, restaurants, shops, services, etc., that are members of the CVB. A CVB not only tracks good service in its destination, but it also tracks bad service. Complaints and misrepresentation by a property or organization will go on record with the CVB.

  9. For whom do CVBs work? With whom do they work?

    CVBs work for the meeting planner and the tourist. Most of them are not-for-profit organizations funded by a percentage of visitor taxes and membership fees, if they are a CVB with members. CVBs work in conjunction with local organizations, local government, and chambers of commerce.

  10. What connections does the CVB have with the local government? With the chamber of commerce? With unions?

    CVBs serve as a liaison among many community organizations. CVBs can arrange for proclamations from elected officials, facilitate introductions with members of the business community, and assist with the names of local union representatives, as well as other services.

    CVBs also will help you get in touch with the local media, providing you with a source to submit press releases, offer press material and passes, and generate local interest in your event.

  11. Can a CVB help me line up security for my event?

    CVBs can put a religious meeting planner in contact with local security companies, again, with the same conditions as any other services.

  12. What costs are involved with using a CVB?

    Generally there is no cost involved for meeting professionals or tourists who use CVB services. In some cases, a fee for materials may be due.

  13. If it doesn't cost anything to use CVB services, how are they funded?

    According to an IACVB Foundation report on how CVBs are financed, most of them receive a majority of funding from public sources. In general, CVBs with budgets of $5 million or less rely on public funding for more than 80 percent of total funding. Public funds come in the form of hotel room tax revenue, restaurant taxes, city, county, and state taxes.

    More than half the CVBs responding to the survey said they receive membership dues, the leading source of private funding. Advertising, promotional participation, event hosting, and publication and merchandise sales top the list of private revenue.

  14. But is a CVB interested in helping with my small religious event?

    Events of 10 to 10,000 people can get assistance. CVBs are interested in making your group's experience in the location the best it can be, regardless of the gathering's size.

    “What makes a CVB unique is its ability to provide varying levels of service and as much or as little information as needed.”

  15. How involved can a CVB get with my event?

    Want to rent the convention facilities? The CVB can put you in touch with the right people and figure out all the logistics. But as the meeting planner, you are the one responsible for negotiating final prices, signing contracts, and managing the event.

    Site selection assistance is one of the most valuable services of a CVB. Sales managers have an intimate knowledge of local properties. Instead of making individual calls, the CVB can streamline the selection process.

  16. At what stage of the planning process should I call the CVB?

    Large citywide conventions are booked several years in advance to ensure that facilities are available. For things such as personnel assistance, several weeks is generally acceptable.

  17. What can't a CVB do?

    CVBs cannot manage your meeting. But they can connect you to a local management organization that can help. CVBs can point you toward local services and properties that will help keep you within your budget.

  18. Are there CVBs abroad?

    Outside the United States, CVBs often are known as tourist boards, conference boards, or national tourist offices. Nearly every country has some sort of NTO that will probably have local offices. The terms for meeting-related items will vary. For example, meeting space will often be measured in square meters, not square feet.

  19. I want to have my event somewhere unusual. Can a CVB help me find that place?

    CVBs can offer you information ranging from the largest convention hotel to the quaintest countryside properties that are available for rent.

  20. What if I'm just setting up a meeting for my board? How can the CVB help?

    What makes a CVB unique is its ability to provide varying levels of service and as much or as little information as needed. Religious meeting planners will benefit from a CVB's knowledge of accommodations, points of interest, and dining options. Planners are encouraged to ask questions and to use the range of resources available to them.