Christy Lamagna is the founder of and Master Strategist at Strategic Meetings & Events. For the last decade her focus has centered around disrupting the meetings industry. She is teaching planners to evolve into meeting strategists, who think with curious minds and learn to create meeting environments that shorten sales cycles and influence attendee behavior. A lifelong learner, intellectual philanthropist and author, Christy taught college-level strategic planning for 10 years which helped inspire her book, “The Strategic Planning Guide for Event Professionals.” Read all of Christy's "Get Strategic" blog posts for CEN here.
CVB Partnerships: Every Conversation is a Valuable Opportunity
Site inspections are a critical component of strategic planning. Without experiencing a property and city in person it’s impossible to accurately gauge if the destination and venue are the right fit for your group. That said, planning site visits can be daunting. Scheduling appointments with offsite venues, DMCs, the short list of hotels, figuring out how to schedule appointments in a logical order and taking the time to confirm all those appointments is a full day’s work. And last I checked, very few of us have entire days waiting to be filled.
Those hours are in addition to what it took to get to the short list of hotels; RFPs are projects unto themselves. Even if you are using an online tool or source out your site searches there is a significant commitment of time and brainpower that goes into creating a shortlist.
While most of us share the challenge of more tasks than time, not all of us share a strategy of tackling our ‘must do’ lists. For instance, some of us immediately turn to a CVB when setting out to find a destination while others choose not to engage the help of a CVB. If you’re in the former category, you may not be utilizing all the services a CVB has to offer. If you’re in the latter category I’m hopeful this article and the one to follow will transform how you handle this part of your planning process.
I recently spoke with Rick Hud, senior manager, convention sales (Midwest) at Travel San Francisco, in search of nuggets of wisdom from an insider on what planners may inadvertently leave on the table when using a CVB. Since their services are paid for through attendees’ occupancy taxes, it makes sense to get the most value for those dollars. Rick was tremendously generous with his time and expertise. What stood out most of all was Rick’s commitment to support every person he meets regardless of how he meets them. He serves as a reminder that every conversation is an opportunity and every stranger is a friend waiting to be made. That’s worth keeping top of mind no matter where your travels lead you.
What does the experience look like when a planner is using a CVB to its fullest potential?
The opportunity is vast when a planner decides to utilize its CVB partnership. We can start by assisting in identifying hotel properties or event spaces that qualify based on their meeting specifications. Source the lead on behalf of the planner that does not choose to have access to our industries technologies. Provide detailed information about airlift and what airports they have access to use. Suggest off-site venues that can accommodate their group's ambitions. Arrange site inspections where the planner is in control of the itinerary, but we design its implementation and contact all participants. Reply to inquiries as to which restaurants can provide space for private dinners, buyouts or are walking distance from their host hotel. Advise on transportation companies, DMCs, local tours, cruises, activities, festivals, music venues, museums and staffing. Provide collateral material and hi-res promotional photos & videos from our private library to pre-promote our destination, suggest local CSR opportunities, assist with acquiring special governmental permits or a welcome letter from our CEO/President or the Mayor...the list goes on and on. Generally, if you can think of a question, we can answer it or know someone who can. We are the ultimate destination resource.
Where do you see room for expansion in the planner/CVB relationship?
We are the planner's advocate. Look at us as the Destination’s national sales organization (NSO). Trust us as you trust the Hotel NSO or global sales organization (GSO) sales team. Prior to even sourcing the RFP, a call, email or text, asking what the availability in a city would be over a specific date or multiple dates would save a planner time. Why wait to hear back from our hotel partners that the opportunity is a turn down due to no availability. Compression from large city-wide meetings that already exist will limit hotel availability and potentially lead to higher rates. We have detailed convention calendars that forecast years into the future. A simple reply from us stating what their level of success would be over one or multiple dates can answer the “why”. If availability is limited, we have the ability to assist in offering options by reviewing the gaps in our convention calendar. With that said, what we don’t have a complete picture of is what our hotel community has booked directly —groups that did not include us at the start of sourcing.
What’s the offering that is the least utilized by planners?
Sharing their lead opportunity with us. Most destinations only see about 30 to 35 percent of all leads that get sourced to that destination. The intel we can provide is vast since we get “paid” to know our destinations better than our customers. Not all hotels are part of a legacy brand and have representation throughout the country. We are a resource that is pre-paid by every room that is occupied in our city via occupancy tax and in some cases, an additional travel industry development tax. This money goes to our local city government and we receive a small portion of monies collected to represent and promote our destination on behalf of our city government.
You’ve been in the meetings industry on various sides of the fence. What is the most significant change you’ve seen in your career?
The introduction of technology. It has created a plethora of opportunities, but its ease of use seems to have created more of a transactional society than a relational one. During my time in the hotel industry, I was reminded that “time was not our friend,” but the need for a quicker response time has resulted in less time being spent in reviewing each lead. Algorithms can now ferret out job candidates without a human interaction with the resume. They can even determine which leads to take and which to turn down just by searching for “keywords” in an RFP. Years ago, when planners had to source manually, more thought went into each destination/hotel they would source. Today, once a lead is properly prepared within the technology, it is just a push of a button to source hundreds of hotels and multiple destinations and get all replies automated into one neat and compact report. But...think about the manpower it took for each of those hotels/venues to reply (if they did reply). We are a society of needing more, but when do we say “enough”.
Next month I’ll share the rest of my conversation with Rick, which explores where the industry may be in ten years. Until then, let me know if this article persuaded you to use CVBs differently or entirely.