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by By Tom Isler, Hunter R. Slaton and Kaylee Hultgren | February 01, 2009

Ticket2The state of the economy has everyone spooked, including convention and visitor bureaus that are keen to shore up their group numbers for this year and beyond. To that end, a number of CVBs have developed new incentive programs -- or are extending existing ones -- for meeting planners. What follows is a survey of some of the most enticing deals out there.

Arizona
Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau

(800) 638-8350; visittucson.org

This past December, the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau began offering an incentive program designed to reinforce meetings in 2009 and even into 2010. "There's heavy pressure on creating demand for '09," says Rick Vaughan, the bureau's senior vice president of sales and marketing. "Hopefully in 2010, things will be better. But for right now we have to be aggressive, because planners' budgets are stressed, and they are looking for additional value."

The CVB developed the program using feedback from both meeting planners and area hotels and resorts. Vaughan says the planners expressed a desire to see some financial relief on their master accounts. So the CVB provided it: If a planner books 25 to 50 peak rooms (minimum of two nights per room) for a meeting to be held this year, the group's master hotel account will be credited $1,000. If a planner books 51 to 100 peak rooms, the group receives $2,500; 101 to 200, $5,000; and more than 200 earns $10,000 back. For meetings booked this year for dates in 2010, these amounts will be halved. If a planner books consecutive 2009 and 2010 meetings, the incentives will be doubled, for a maximum credit of $20,000.

The program is half-funded by the CVB and half by participating hotels and resorts.

California
LA Inc. The Convention and Visitors Bureau
(800) 228-2452; discoverLosAngeles.com

To lock in group business for Los Angeles, the sales team for LA Inc. uses credits toward convention center rentals based on the amount of transit occupancy taxes generated by the group, according to Michael K. Krouse, CHME, CMP, senior vice president of sales. "Other cities give discounts," notes Krouse, "but they in turn charge rebates per room, which effectively go back to the CVB or the convention center in the end." Here's how the deal works: If the convention center rental costs $500,000, and the group is able to generate $500,000 in occupancy taxes, the rental fee will be waved. Groups with 1,500 peak rooms or 3,000 total room nights qualify.

Krouse notes that the program has proved successful, even in a down economy, with the help of new downtown developments such as mega hotel/enter­tainment complex L.A. Live and myriad restaurants and bars cropping up in the area. "For those who are skeptical in these tough times, the rental discount helps to speed up the closing process," he says. 
 
San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau
(619) 232-3101; sandiego.org

According to San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau president and CEO David Peckinpaugh, a site-selection visit to the city really helps seal the deal. The bureau's newest initiative makes that step more feasible by covering planners' travel costs. "Everyone's cutting back on travel right now, and site selection falls in that category," Peckinpaugh explains.

For groups considering San Diego, the bureau will cover the cost of airline tickets for the planner and any key decision makers. Eligible groups must book a minimum of 400 rooms, though some flexibility of criteria is allowed.

Peckinpaugh says the program "has pushed along the sales process and increased closure rates. And, of course, it's very appreciated by planners."

San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 726-5673; sanjose.org

To entice planners to choose San Jose, Calif., the bureau has begun offering off-site destination management services free of charge for citywides. "Especially during these times, it's more important than ever to expand our services," says Dan Fenton, president and CEO of Team San Jose, the group managing the marketing, tourism, convention center and cultural facilities for the city.

For example, additional planning that typically might be taken care of by a destination management company -- including transportation and ushering services, ticketing for events and scheduling of off-site activities -- can be managed by members of the bureau's team. 

As is the case with many bureaus, Team San Jose will offer marketing services in an effort to increase attendance. On one occasion, the team brought in a staff of telemarketers who zeroed in on the group's specific target audience. "By using our own community contacts, we were able to expose them to markets that they could not access on their own," says a Team San Jose spokesperson. Additional perks for groups that can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis include free Internet service during meetings, free local signage and welcome services.

Florida
Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 972-3304; orlandoinfo.com

"We are anticipating that meetings and conventions may be decreasing for 2009," concedes Tammi Runzler, vice president of convention sales and services for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau. To try to reverse that trend, Runzler says, "we have some incentives in the works."

One of these is a program for planners employed by ConferenceDirect and HelmsBriscoe. Eight planners from each firm can win a trip package to the annual meeting of either the Professional Convention Management Association, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, Meeting Professionals International or the American Society of Association Executives. Packages will include conference registration, airfare and three nights' stay at a hotel of the CVB's choice.

To qualify, third-party planners must, by April 30, book at least $750,000 worth of room revenue in Orange County for a 2009 meeting, or, by June 30, book at least $1.5 million in room revenue for a meeting to be held in 2010 or thereafter.