Beyond Brochures
By Alex Palmer
May 1, 2013

When the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) held its annual conference in New Orleans, the group worked closely with the local Convention and Visitors Bureau as the event approached. The New Orleans CVB didn't just provide marketing and programming assistance, it also connected with a partner destination marketing company to pull strings and allow DMAI to add something really special to its event: its very own parade through the city's streets. 

Instead of taking a bus from their hotel to the event, DMAI attendees got a Mardi Gras party of floats and marching band, leading them to a private reception at a highly regarded antiques gallery. For a group of about 1,000 destination marketers who had seen it all, the event offered them something they would definitely remember after departing. 

"Our aim is to expose them to all the attractions - the museums, venues they may not know about, or what the locals eat," says Nikki Moon, vice president of convention sales for the New Orleans CVB. 

While DMAI knew to collaborate with the local convention and visitors bureau (CVB) - after all, they are an association of CVBs and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) - often, meeting planners don't even think to ask. 

"Lots of times, planners think that CVBs are just about brochures," says Moon. "Newer planners, especially those from the corporate side, may not know we provide so many complementary services, and at no cost to them." 

Moon's point is reflected in the recent "Global Planner 2013" study by Successful Meetings' sister publication Meetings & Conventions, which found that 48 percent of corporate professionals use DMOs infrequently while an additional 16 percent say they do not use them at all. For association planners, 34 percent use CVBs infrequently and 11 percent saying they never use them. 

In many cases, this is simply because planners are not aware of how many services these marketing groups can provide - beyond destination brochures and restaurant tips."As planners, we know they have experience and knowledge of the destination, but it goes much deeper," says Brad Weaber, executive vice president of event services for meeting planning company SmithBucklin. "They can really work as strategic advisors, not just offering information on property rates, but sitting down with us to see how to fulfill our own vision and mission." 

Here are just a few of the things that CVBs and DMOs can provide that can have a major impact on your next meeting. 

Tapping Into Digital Tools 
Planners looking to get a bit more tech-savvy with their event promotion, but who lack the experience or interest in using digital tools, will find a helpful ally in a destination's CVB or DMO. Increasingly, these organizations are taking it upon themselves to develop rich online offerings for visiting groups, including apps, videos, and websites that planners can use for promotional or educational purposes. 

"Lots of groups don't have a nice centralized website for their events," says Trevor Curtis, destination sales and services specialist at Visit Fairfax, the DMO of Fairfax County, VA. 

The organization creates customized webpages for groups that are individually branded with the association or company's logo, and include extensive links to merchants and services in the area, as well as basic information like directions and transportation details. 

"In addition to building attendance, it allows that delegate to say, 'it looks like a great place - maybe I'll bring my family there another time,'" says Todd Garofano, president of Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, in Saratoga Springs, NY, which also offers customized landing pages. 

Recently, Visit Fairfax has expanded this concept into a mobile application, which attendees can download to access destination information, including coupons and discounts, from their smartphones throughout the event itself. This also presents an added green benefit: Instead of creating boxes of supplemental material for every meeting group, Visit Fairfax has taken to providing groups with a stack of tear-away cards with details on the app and a QR code that attendees can scan to directly download it to their smartphones. 

Visit Denver has recently begun offering videos that groups can customize specifically for their event, to use in any promotions, or to send out to attendees. 

"We take location suggestions and can even get the mayor involved in the videos," says Deborah Park, associate director of communications for Visit Denver. 

Along the same lines, Visit Orlando has recently launched a library of short educational videos to demonstrate different aspects of the destination to planners. Tammi Runzler, senior vice president of sales and services at Visit Orlando, emphasizes that the videos are meant more as informational tools than marketing ones. 

"These videos allow the planners to have visual aids when they might need to gain further understanding of a feature of our destination," says Runzler. 

The tools have proved to be especially valuable to attendees. "Visit Orlando is a strategic partner of PennWell that provides invaluable assistance in developing our long-term goals for the Orlando market," says Lisa Gasaway, director of event operations for PennWell Corporation, a publishing firm. "They go above and beyond, assisting not just us but also our exhibitors and attendees on all of their needs." 

Elevating the Event
While CVBs can strengthen the digital offerings of a meeting, they can also help make it feel like something much more than just a company event. For example, by working with local businesses to post signage welcoming attendees and encouraging local merchants to post their own promotions, CVBs can make it truly a community experience. 

"It tells the attendee that the business appreciates them being here, so they know they will see a happy face when they walk in," says Garofano of the Saratoga CVB.

These efforts have helped Saratoga to attract the SEMI Advanced Semiconductor Manufacturing Conference for three years in a row. The group of about 250 executives from around world were drawn to the Saratoga area partly because a new semiconductor manufacturing plant was opened about 20 minutes outside the city. But they certainly faced competition. 

"They came here for the first time two years ago, and we were up against Boston, Washington D.C., and other first-tier cities," says Garofano. "Our more personal approach set us apart." 

Because DMOs and CVBs are so connected to the rest of the community, in some cases they can even organize complementary events to stoke attendance and boost the conference's offerings. 

For example, Denver holds the annual Great American Beer Festival, which draws a growing number of visitors to the region each year. Visit Denver, the area's DMO, has worked with a number of the local merchants to expand the program offerings. It has been instrumental in expanding the event into a massive nine-day festival.

"We set up 'Meet the Brewer' nights and events where they would tap a rare keg for attendees to share," says Rich Grant, communications director for Visit Denver, adding that last year it arranged for an event where the mayor brewed a beer, and even scrubbed one of the tanks. 

Visit Denver took a similar approach once it started hosting the SIA Snow Show, the world's largest snow sports trade show. 

"We created the Mile High SnowFest around it," says Grant. "There's an art show where skis and snowboards are set up with fabulous art on them, and specials are offered at the bars, which if you came in with a delegate badge you would be qualified for." 

Tapping the right local artists to enhance an event is another way CVBs are often able to elevate a program. For the Georgia Governor's Tourism Conference, the Macon-Bibb County CVB commissioned a local artist to create a special design for the Governor's conference award. 

"It is a stained-glass plaque with the design of one of our local museums, the Tubman African American Museum," says Valerie Bradley, communications manager of the Macon-Bibb County CVB. "We also worked with a local caterer who designed the finale dinner menu with items from all Georgia-area farmers." 

Expert Suggestions 
While CVBs can provide an introduction to all that a destination offers, sometimes they are also able to help by taking the opposite approach, simplifying choices and helping a meeting planner decide from an overwhelming number of options. That was the surprising difficulty that the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) found itself in last year when it held its annual conference in Kansas City, MO. 

The gathering brings together about 10,000 coaches, exhibitors, honorees, and other special guests for a range of activities including education sessions, a tradeshow, and awards for the year's top 25 teams and All-American athletes. But in putting together such a huge gathering, the event's planners had an unusual challenge. 

"In Kansas City, you can pick your own catering company in the convention center instead of them supplying it like they do in other places," says Geoff Vandeusen, director of events for the NSCAA. 

With an overwhelming number of choices available, the group turned to the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association (KCCVA), which was able to offer the group a few specific recommendations on caterers. Pleased with the options they suggested, the NSCAA worked with them to develop the entertainment well. 

"We had a couple of our leaders in the association retire, so [KCCVA] secured a barbershop quartet that customized the songs for the retirees, which was a really great touch," says Vandeusen. 

CVBs can also provide insider knowledge about what dates or time frames work best for groups of various sizes, and which periods to avoid. For example, a smaller group may not want to overlap if a major company is holding its event the same week, since it will have fewer resources at the destination. 

CVBs can even offer diversions for the spouses or families who join on a group meeting when the attendees are focusing on business. The Albany Convention & Visitors Bureau in Albany, GA, arranges this type of "spouse itinerary." 

"We will organize the day and travel with them - helping them hit all the local hot spots," says Jenny Collins, manager of marketing and communications for the Albany CVB. She gives the example of a recent hunting classic where the spouses of attendees who were not interested in hunting joined in a safari ride and behind-the-scenes tour of the Albany Zoo.Demonstrating Impact 

After the event, the marketing organization's work often continues. For the NSCAA conference, the Kansas City, MO Convention & Visitors Association nominated the group for a Hometown Hero Award, which recognizes organizations that make the greatest impact on the local community. They won the award for the wide-ranging business benefits their event brought to the Kansas City area. 

"It was presented to us by the mayor and covered in the local press," says Vandeusen, adding that the association may never have thought to apply if not for the KCCVA. 

This kind of recognition does is more than just a nice trophy to decorate an office - it can offer real business value for future meetings."We as meeting professionals want to know what kind of economic impact we are having in a destination," says SmithBucklin's Weaber. "We can try to figure that out on our own, but it's much easier to go through a destination marketing team, and then leverage the information in negotiations to show what kind of business our group will bring." SM Questions or comments? Email