Outta Sites

In a hurry? Check out our time-saving CVB web pages

Screen shots from four websites

Web winners (clockwise from top left): Visit Charlotte; the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority; Galveston Island, Texas, Tourism & Marketing; and the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau have sites that areaesthetically pleasing and highly functional.

A new crop of convention and visitor bureau websites offers more help with planning and executing a meeting than ever. These online resources “are the first place a planner goes to look for ancillary services, such as ground vendors, destination management companies and off-site venues,” says Pamela Wynne, CMP, vice president of operations at Randolph, N.J.-based EMCMeeting Solutions. With 3-D interactive maps, late-breaking podcasts and ultra-detailed search engines, these sites give planners what they want to know, and they do it better and faster.

The uses of a bureau website extend far beyond introductions to a destination. For example, the Long Beach (Calif.) CVB recently began offering custom microsites for meeting groups, something that could cost planners a pretty penny to do on their own.

Stephen James, president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association, is especially appreciative of the feature. As he was preparing for the Fraternal Order of Police’s 59th Biennial National Conference & Exhibition in 2009, the bureau launched a microsite for the meeting that debuted during this year’s conference. “It has set the tone for what will be our best conference ever,” James says.

Following is a sampling of M&C’s favorite CVB web pages, from Florida to Alaska and with some colorful stops along the way.

Best all-around
Visit Florida

Redesigned in 2007, Florida’s official website gets props for a clean design and some well-conceived tools. We love the comprehensive property search, simple but informative interactive map and the “My Meetings” space, where planners can store requests for proposal, presentation materials and personalized attendee web pages. The site was designed with input from planners, and it shows. The property comparison tool is one of the best we’ve seen.

Best looking
Visit Charlotte (N.C.)

With its fun, kitschy design, gorgeous photography and easy-to-navigate menus, we’re suckers for visitcharlotte.com’s good looks. But this site has substance as well: Insider podcasts, an interactive walking tour and convenient drop-down menus make it super-functional.

Coolest map
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

The meetings site for the king of convention cities does a good job of balancing the glitz and the goods. Our favorite feature is a 3-D interactive map with hotels and attractions that pop up, accompanied by boxes of statistics. The map filters the pinpointed locations into nine categories (like hotels and meeting sites) and allows users to make printable notes. We also appreciate the handy link to an extensive page for visitors with special needs.

Most efficient
Metropolitan Tucson (Ariz.)
Convention & Visitors Bureau

Planners and journalists have one thing in common: They want to know what’s new now, so we immediately noticed the “What’s New” column on the main page of this stellar site. The property search displays the number of guest rooms, amount of meeting space, and biggest meeting room quickly and concisely. A “FastTrack RFP” service offers templates that let users address specific properties. There might not be a lot of bells and whistles, but this site gives you what you need fast.

Hippest technology
Galveston Island, Texas, Tourism & Marketing

One of the best tech-savvy CVB sites around, this one offers a Second Life version of Galveston, where visitors can take video-game-like tours and learn about the city’s history online. Also check out the weekly podcasts on what’s new and downloadable maps for iPods.

Most eco-friendly
Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston is one of the few cities to offer a sub-site completely dedicated to its eco-conscious alter ego, Green Houston. Listing green hotels, facilities, transportation and statistics, the site makes it easy to plan an earth-friendly meeting.

Greatest views
Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau

Sometimes a map just won’t do it. Northern Kentucky’s CVB site for planners offers 360-degree aerial views that let you swoop down into the city’s hotspots. Also check out the one-stop, comprehensive guide to 30 off-site venues, which lists number of rooms, amount of square footage and seating capabilities.

Best search tools
Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau

The search tools for this site are top-notch. Multiple categories allow you to sort through group venues by meeting capacity, amenities (such as A/V equipment) and proximity to downtown. Even dining options have a meeting specs search, something missing from most sites. We like the list of properties in close proximity to downtown, too.

Best marketing support
Long Beach (Calif.) Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Launched earlier this year and voted one of the best tourism websites of 2007 by the Web Marketing Association, this site has the best of both worlds -- it’s visitor and planner friendly. A customized microsite feature lets planners personalize mini versions of the home page with information on attendees’ accommodations and activities. Marketing an event has never been easier: Just provide the link, and let them explore.

Handiest details
Anchorage (Alaska) Convention & Visitors Bureau

Those not familiar with this beautiful Northern city will appreciate the link to a concise map and a clear explanation of the city’s civic and convention district at anchorageconventiondistrict.com. A properties link on the main page quickly lists the largest hotels and travel times to the airport and nearby attractions, a simple but important detail most sites forget.