Monday, May 14, 2012

12 Key Questions To Ask A CVB When Considering A Meeting Destination

So you've been shopping for destinations to host your meeting and have finally narrowed your selections down to a definitive group of cities with just the right amount of hotel rooms, meeting spaces and great things for your attendees to see and do. But now comes the hard part -choosing just one!
That's when it's time to dig deeper by asking Convention and Visitors Bureaus more targeted questions. This will help you whittle down your choices even more and get you further on track for selecting that perfect city. Here are some key questions to ask a CVB when considering a destination for your next meeting or event.
What services do you provide? This may seem like a no-brainer but make sure you ask the CVB about the menu of services available to you, your attendees and your exhibitors, as most of them are probably complimentary or extremely low cost. Keep in mind that every CVB will vary in its offerings, as well as whether or not they can offer their services to if you didn't use them to generate your lead.

"That should definitely be one of your considerations when you're looking and comparing destinations," says Tammi Runzler, senior vice president of convention sales and services at Visit Orlando. "You want to see what support and services are in place in the event you do select that city."

What's new in town? A lot of second and third-tier cities have been adding their fair share of new, quality amenities to better compete with first-tier destinations, so if you've never experienced the destination or haven't visited in a while, ask what the city has done to improve its offerings - you might be surprised!How safe is your destination? Besides asking about the safety of the city overall, inquire about the areas surrounding the hotels and convention facility. Make sure to find out which hotels have plans in place in case of an emergency or natural disaster.
How flexible are your hotels and convention center? Many properties and facilities are willing to work with planners to earn their business, so find out what is or isn't negotiable for them.

"Sometimes you might have a scenario where a hotel doesn't have a lot of upgraded rooms but they can offer you something else instead," says Patricia Zollman, senior director of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe. "Look at your wish list and decide which things you have to have and which things you can forgo."

Do you offer FAM trips or customized site visits? Ask about CVB-sponsored trips that allow you to experience a destination and customized site visits that offer a more in-depth look at the hotels and amenities you're most interested in.What is your relationship with the convention center? If you're planning on using the city's convention facility, ask about the nature of its partnership with the CVB. Does the CVB represent the facility, how is it managed and is it tax-based, privately or publicly owned?

"The more information planners know, the more equipped they are to negotiate," says Craig Davis, vice president of sales and marketing at VisitPittsburgh. "If the CVB controls the revenue of the convention center then the facility may be more apt to give some stuff away."

What are your business cycle and need times? If you can be flexible with dates, find out what that will mean to the city. Ask about the peaks and valleys of their business cycle so you have a more broad, comprehensive overview of their busiest and slowest times. Keep in mind that if you're able to book dates in a period or weekday pattern that helps the city, you'll most likely leverage a much better deal.What will be happening in the destination during my event? Ask about any large events and development projects that could potentially impact your event as well as your attendees' ability to get in, around and out of the city while you're there.

"If you're coming in over the same time as the Democratic Convention or a G2 Summit, you may want to rethink your dates or destination because it may not be the best place for you to be," says Zollman. "Construction and renovation projects can (also) dynamically affect your program."

What other events will be taking place in the hotel and/or convention center at the same time? You probably don't want a marching band event next door to your HR meeting, so find out who will be sharing the hotel blocks, meeting spaces and/or convention facility as well as who will be moving in and out during your event.Can you send out my RFP to a narrow list? There may be some hotels in a destination that don't fit your parameters, so if you'd prefer that the CVB only send out your lead to a select list of properties, make sure to speak up so they can help you keep things simple.
Can you offer creative options and ideas? Ask about creative, non-obvious activities or experiences that work well in the destination and could provide a more unique experience for your attendees.
Will you provide references? Ask to speak to other groups that have held similar-sized meetings in the destination so you can talk to them about their experiences and get their feedback.

"Definitely get references from other events," says Donella Evoniuk, senior director of conference services for the International Society for Technology In Education (ISTE). "Ask them questions such as how the CVB works with the hotel community. You want to know that in the event of a problem the CVB will have your back."
Christine "Shimo" Shimasaki, CDME, CMP, joined Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) in June 2009, Ms. Shimasaki brings over 16 years of destination marketing experience to her role. In her current role, Christine leads two major initiatives for the industry, including the meeting planners web portal and historical database, empowerMINT.com and the new event impact calculator.

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