What can convention and visitor bureaus do to really impress a meeting planner? For some planners, a fast response to their questions is paramount. For others, anything from a personal tour of the city to an extra hand at the registration table has made them more loyal to a destination. And planners have some gripes, too, from sales contacts who don't do their homework to the wasteful and outdated meeting planning kits that still come in the mail.
M&C interviewed eight meeting professionals about their likes and dislikes when working with bureaus. On our panel of experts:
>MaryAnne P. Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, Bobrow & Associates, Citrus Heights, Calif.
>Betty Cartwright, director of meetings, American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, Memphis, Tenn.
>Molly Devine, president, marketing and events, Royal Media Group, New York City
>Cheri Gainor, director, conferences and events, The Humane Society of the United States, Gaithersburg, Md.
>Kate Hurst, director, conference and events, U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C.
>Annette C. Morris, CMP, manager, meeting and travel services North America, Nestlé Purina PetCare, St. Louis
>Lynn Rich, CMP, program development manager, Publicis Meetings USA, Orlando
>Janet Ridgely, vice president, meetings and administration, American Chiropractic Association, Arlington, Va.
Here's what they told us.
How do you want to be contacted by CVBs?
Bobrow: I really don't like to be contacted. I like to reach out to the ones that I need help from.
Devine: E-mail is best. If you're calling me out of the blue, nine times out of 10 I have something else I need to be working on.
Gainor: A lot of cities call planners just to say, "We want to see if our city is a possibility for your group." If we are interested, we are going to be calling you.
Rich: A personal visit by the CVB rep is ideal, as this allows them to educate me and my co-workers about their destination. I also appreciate e-mails that update me on things such as hotels and venues.
Ridgely: I prefer to be reached by e-mail, since I'm on it all the time. I screen my phone calls.
How can a CVB best court you?
Bobrow: After I send a proposal, I want to get back realistic answers. If I tell them my group wants a moderate lodging rate, I want to see hotels that meet my criteria and don't go into the high-end arena. Also, I want to work with someone who, when they receive my request for proposal, will pick up the phone if need be and get some clarification from me.
Cartwright: For cities I haven't been to before, or haven't been to since they've made changes, it's nice to come in to meet my contacts and get a tour of the hotels, convention center and new attractions.
Devine: The best thing is when they offer a fam trip down to their destination to check it out. A phone conversation or a website can only help so much.
Gainor: I want someone who knows the area and who listens to my needs. I've had many CVBs that don't listen to my client's needs. Personal attention is key.
Hurst: A phone call followed up by e-mailed materials. As I work for an environmental organization, I don't like it when they send big packets to me.
Morris: They need to sell me on the destination. So give me information beyond just hotels -- airlift, restaurants, destination management companies and unique venues, too.
Ridgely: Everyone's budgets are chopped in half, so providing a fam trip or a site inspection trip helps a lot.
What are your personal pet peeves when working with CVBs?
Bobrow: I don't like to see personal perks offered by CVBs. If you want to say, "Come to my city and we'll give your group a free reception," that's fine with me. But when it's "you will win this," I think it's unethical.
Cartwright: My biggest pet peeve is when cities that my group is already way too big for continue to contact me, even when they should know that I have no business for them.
Devine: A lot of CVBs send out those huge books of information about their city. I think those are kind of outdated. If I want to find out about a destination, I'm going to visit its website.
Gainor: Once you've booked a conference, instead of forgetting about you, they should follow up. Usually, after I book a conference, I never hear from them again.
Hurst: My biggest pet peeve is when CVBs don't take into consideration the type of organization that you are -- for instance, if I call them up and say, "My VP is coming to town," and they pick her up in a limo. We are an environmentally focused organization, so in our case a Prius is much more appreciated.
Morris: Some -- though not all -- forget to listen to their clients; they're focused on their supplier members.
Ridgely: That they are eliminating fam trips. I was appalled when one CVB I called offered no assistance whatsoever. I understand budget cuts, but at least make an attempt to pick me up or tell me the high points of what to see.
What are the best perks of working with a CVB?
Bobrow: When I looked at the contracts that came back for a meeting I'm planning in March, there were two top-runners. One of them threw in a free refreshment break. That's not a lot, but it will save my client money.
Cartwright: As a nonprofit and a membership association, there's a fine line we are required to walk: Any perk must benefit the group as a whole. As such, the only concessions we really try and push for are room rate and convention center discounts.
Devine: The best perk is for them to take you out, take you around their town. In Miami, the CVB took us to the Sony Ericsson Open. I'm a big tennis fan, so that was great for me.
Gainor: The best perk has been on-site staffing. With organizations cutting back on staff travel, the fact that some CVBs will provide us with a certain amount of free staffing if we book a certain number of room nights is a huge perk now.
Hurst: Fam trips definitely help you get to know the city; you get to see the fun side of a city that you typically don't get to see when coming to plan. We also always appreciate when cities take into consideration convention center rental and price breaks on hotel rooms.
Morris: It's a single source for all your meeting needs, and the extra support for making your meeting successful.
Ridgely: Fam trips and complimentary services like free bags and help with registration. I also love to see welcome signs in the airport to greet my group. It's nice to see the city welcoming us, and it makes our attendees feel important.
What does a CVB do that makes you want to return to their city?
Bobrow: I appreciate it when they get you local visitor information and recommendations, such as whom to contact about transportation or what's unique in the area. I also want them to inform me about the local regulations and political climate, whether or not there is anything going on in their city that may impact my group.
Cartwright: It's all about the personal attention our attendees see from the city -- for instance, telling the city's businesses that they need to be staffed up for my group. Security also is important. We are a high-security convention, and I depend on the CVB to get the word out to facilities we will be using.
Devine: A lot of it has to do with the people they employ at the CVB, how they interact with you and how much enthusiasm they show for their city. To get return business, you have to treat it as a friendship. When people treat your program like nothing more than a number of room nights, I'm just turned off.
Gainor: Anticipating my needs. Calling me and seeing what they can do for me. Making me feel that my group is important to both the CVB and the city. I want to feel like we're not just another group -- rather, that we're part of the family. Keeping up that relationship, those lines of communication, is very important.
Hurst: When they really go the extra mile and provide us with, say, lists of restaurants that have green practices, food donation outlets, environmentally friendly transportation and other things that are appropriate to my organization.
Morris: If you appreciate my group's total business value, I will come back again and again.
Rich: The quickness of response to RFPs is important. A lot of times we're feeding our clients information as it comes in. A high level of service would cause us to continue working with them.
Ridgely: The big thing for me is knowing that the city cares about my business, whether my group is big or small. If they take good care of me from that first phone call and throughout the planning process, and then follow up when the meeting is over, that is what wins my business.