by Lisa A. Grimaldi | February 01, 2015
For many planners, destination marketing organizations are the go-to resource for organizing meetings and conventions in a city or region. But few are aware of another resource -- state tourism offices --  that can provide many services and assistance on a statewide level. A number of these agencies, which traditionally have concentrated their efforts on leisure tourism, are boosting their outreach to meeting professionals. Following, M&C profiles three such entities that are actively courting meetings.

Visit Florida 
Among state tourism organizations, Visit Florida has the most established meeting planner outreach and offerings for this market segment.

The bureau represents more than 12,000 industry partners in the state, including major strategic alliances with the Hertz Corp., Legoland Florida Resort, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Universal Orlando Resort and Disney Destinations.

According to Cheryl Hatcher, Visit Florida's director of sales, meetings and travel trade, "With more than 12,000 industry partners, our goal is to connect planners to a perfect destination, hotel/resort, facility or individual they can work with to better make their next meeting a memorable experience."

Among the bureau's planner offerings are complimentary "Cover Your Event" insurance for meetings and events held in the state from August through November, the traditional hurricane season. Another highlight is Florida Encounter, an appointment-based trade show for planners and suppliers held each December in the state.

The bureau also maintains a database of planners and reaches out to them via other mediums, including a dedicated meetings website, an e-newsletter, social media ads and sponsored posts. "Our team at VF participates through partnerships with approximately 10-12 major trade shows, conferences and conventions," explains Hatcher. "Visit Florida takes a leadership role representing the state through speaking before major keynotes or organizing Florida booths encompassing our industry partners."

Visit Florida is a not-for-profit corporation created as a public/private partnership by the Florida Legislature. Additional funding comes from the private sector. (Last year, the bureau raised more than $120 million in private sector matching funds.)

Hatcher admits that some DMOs in the state have a higher profile than others. "However, as our Florida Tourism visitation continues to grow, it is important for us to assist in the education aspect to inform planners of opportunities all over the state to host their meetings and events. It is imperative that we assist in building business in all destinations in Florida."

Looking forward, Hatcher says, Visit Florida's goal is to get to know planners better, "so that we can communicate direct messaging and know who is booking business in Florida and how often." Global visitors are the fastest growing market segment, she notes, therefore the organization is developing more messaging and programs for international planners.