Meetings & Conventions: Click and Go - October
Click and Go
Cities are making it easier for planners to get information,
inspect venues and even negotiate online
By Lindsay Morris
Peggy Westby, CMP, doesn’t have time to wait
for a return phone call, let alone a packet of information via
overnight mail. When researching possible meeting sites, she finds
the idea of waiting even a few hours for information to be
frustrating. If a day or two goes by, she might just choose another
city. Westby, director of educational services for the St.
Paul-based Minnesota Hospital and Healthcare Partnership, says she
probably could not do her job without the Internet. Convention and
visitor bureau sites are her first stop in the planning process.
“Often, I can get all of my questions answered by just going to the
site first,” she notes. “It allows me to look at things at my own
pace, on my own schedule.”
And, Westby admits, if pressed to make a decision, she is likely
to choose a destination that has a great Web site. “If they’ve
taken the extra time with their site and provided me with enough
information, it shows they’ll take the time to do the job right
when we need them,” she says.
A good CVB site is one that provides thorough information in a
clear and accessible format, says Bill Peeper, president of the
Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Customers
want to communicate quickly,” he notes. “They need to get in and
out. It has to be fresh, and it has to be current.”
A planner visiting CVB sites can expect to find a listing of
hotels, attractions, events calendars and photos. Most of the
better sites also feature a separate section for meeting planners,
with a comprehensive list of meeting hotels and links to the
properties’ Web sites, zoom-in maps, floor plans, photo galleries,
virtual tours, online hotel reservations, discount coupons, weather
information and a directory of local resources.
A good site enables a planner to perform a virtual site inspection
without leaving the office. Those who want to seal the deal
electronically can send requests for proposal and book hotel space
“How many times have I trudged over concrete floors for hours on
end, hoping to find a suitable site for an event, trade show or
convention?” asks MaryAnne Bobrow, owner of Fair Oaks, Calif.-based
Signature Events Management Company. “The value of a virtual tour
is that I can check the floor plan and eliminate sites in advance
if I see that columns here and there will interfere with my needs.
I want to see where the windows are, where the columns are and
where the exits are. If they show me the color of the carpet,
that’s all the better. Once I’ve toured, I can then narrow my
selection down and do physical site inspections on one or two
The Internet has cut Bobrow’s planning time considerably, she
says. “Now I can see the floor plan and conference call with others
who are looking at the same online site. Meetings on site selection
and show development are much more efficient. Room sizes, maximum
settings, ceiling height, etc., are all there for me to see.”
As Web sites proliferate, competition is heating up. Karyn
Gruenberg, vice president of marketing for the Greater Minneapolis
Convention and Visitors Bureau, recalls this year’s annual meeting
of the International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus,
when about 30 CVB executives were asked whether they are
redesigning their Web pages. “Twenty-nine hands went up,” says
Gruenberg, including her own.
The decision to redesign www.minneapolis.org was part of a
natural evolution, notes Gruenberg. Each department outlined
feedback it had received from visitors to the site; all pertinent
praise and criticism were examined, and this fall the site was
Since the early ’90s, when the site was first conceived, meeting
planners and travel professionals have been a target audience.
Because planners often are short on time and need a rapid response,
Gruenberg says, the bureau has put more emphasis on answering
requests in a timely manner and providing information in a concise
format. “We want to be able to make it easier for planners to
communicate with us,” she says.
Online requests for proposal further speed the process. The forms
offer easy-to-answer fields and extra space to type specific
details when needed.
Greater Columbus’ Web site, Surprise-itscolumbus.com, for
example, has an electronic RFP featured under the heading, “Spec
Form.” In categories like “type of organization,” “total number of
people,” “total number of rooms blocked” and “preferred
arrival/departure days,” the planner can scroll through a list of
options. The form even asks the planner to specify when she will
need a response.
If the planner prefers to use her own form, the bureau will
accept it as an attachment to an e-mail message in a Microsoft Word
document or text-only file format.
The “Conventions & Meetings” section at the Greater
Minneapolis site features a form that takes users through the
process with clear, step-by-step instructions. Planners receive an
automatic confirmation that the request has been received. A
follow-up e-mail or phone call serves as a second confirmation.
Many sites provide feedback in about 24 hours. And some include
a message board that allows for discussion.
While a growing number of planners are conducting business online,
many still prefer the telephone or in-person discussions.
“There’s nothing like talking to the person on the phone,” says
Lynne Tiras, CMP, president of the Houston-based International
Meeting Managers Inc..
Cathy Ewing, CMP, of Kansas City, Mo.- based Bayer Corp., also
turns to the phone first. Says Ewing, who plans about 100 meetings
per year, “I typically will call the CVB as a starting point and
explain a little about the group I’m bringing, so I can get a quick
take on whether or not they can meet my needs. Then I go to the Web
Perhaps to woo more of the phone holdouts, the IACVB
Foundation’s CVB Futures Project, a recent study conducted by
Arthur Andersen LLP (with support from industry consultants D.K.
Shifflet & Associates), provides bureaus with some insight into
clients’ needs. “While the majority of CVBs have a Web presence,
they may be underestimating the challenge of providing the
customization and personalization features that the consumer of
tomorrow will require,” the paper states.
The study details users’ gripes involving both the technical
aspects of navigating the CVB sites and the lack of consistent
information found there.
What bureaus must keep in mind, says Steve Wilson, president of
the Grand Rapids/Kent County (Mich.) Convention & Visitors
Bureau, is that the need for interpersonal communication has only
increased. “As e-mail and the use of Web sites has skyrocketed in
the meetings industry, these tools have been seen by the bureau as
a way to communicate directly to the customer and get past some of
the clutter,” he says. “I know meeting planners are responding
favorably to that.”
A PORTAL FOR ALLOfficialtravelinfo.com,
a new site launched in May, is designed to help planners find
convention and visitor bureau Web sites quickly and to communicate
their needs to several cities in a matter of minutes.
To use the site, which serves as a portal
connecting users to CVB information worldwide, users can link to a
specific CVB site or first visit information links provided for
each city. Links include a six-day weather forecast, current time,
a map, area airports and newspapers.
Reservations can be made for lodging, airplane
tickets or car rentals from the CVB Web-site entry page on
Officialtravelinfo. com. When a booking is made, the site sends a
confirmation number via e-mail. If the requested reservation is not
available, the site will suggest alternatives.
was developed by two bureau presidents, Bill Peeper of the
Orlando/Orange County CVB and Bill Hanbury of the Greater Milwaukee
CVB, with the support of the International Association of
Convention and Visitor Bureaus.
“We’re going to make it as easy as possible for
customers to get as much information as they want,” says Peeper.
Users remain within the Officialtravel info.com realm until they
type a new URL into their browser. This lets planners send multiple
requests for proposal and perform several virtual site inspections
from one site.
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