ConventionSouth’s 2023 CVB & Planner Relationship Survey

ConventionSouth's CVB & Planners Relationship Survey reveals the interactions between the groups is ever changing, but remains significantly important to the success of both sides.
ConventionSouth’s CVB & Planners Relationship Survey reveals the interactions between the groups is ever changing, but remains significantly important to the success of both sides.

Good news from ConventionSouth’s annual CVB & Planner Relationship Survey: More than 40 percent—the largest number of planner respondents—say they are planning 11 or more events in the South in the next 12 months. However, along with the return of in-person meetings come frustration and worry about rising costs and staffing shortages—concerns shared by both planners and CVBs.

Our annual survey was fielded online from Dec. 29, 2022, through Jan. 22, 2023. Thank you to the planners and CVB staff members who anonymously shared their insights and perspectives to offer the industry an overview of their evolving relationship.

Much has changed in the last three years. The industry comeback and the lifting of many pandemic restrictions can skew comparisons to historical data. We endeavored to make fair comparisons of some general questions asked across past surveys (including our annual Industry Trends Survey published every October) to show changes in trends and attitudes. We’ve also compared the answers to some of the same questions asked of planners and CVBs; often the two have nearly identical responses, while on some topics, the two groups are far apart.

Bottom line: The relationship between planners and CVBs is gaining strength. A year ago, 55 percent of CVB respondents said the relationship between CVBs and planners has not changed in the wake of the pandemic; this year, that increased to 70 percent. More than 63 percent of planners say they use the services of CVBs for some or most events, and less than 3 percent say they never use CVB assistance. And more than 81 percent of planner respondents say venue-selection technology will not reduce the relevance of CVBs in the foreseeable future. Planners also gave the CVBs they work with high marks for sharing their RFPs with venues that are a good fit, matching hotels with planner needs and budgets, and accurately representing the destination’s ability to handle their meeting.

One CVB participant commented: “Begin and end with the CVB. Communication is key for both sides to ensure an unforgettable experience.”

What planners say

Conferences continue to be the leading type of meeting for planners at 64 percent, followed by association meetings (43 percent) and corporate meetings (40 percent). Conferences have been highest number in all surveys since October 2020. More than half of respondents say their meetings average 101 to 500 attendees.

Despite the loss of many industry professionals that severed long-term relationships and resulted in a loss of knowledge and experience, the majority of planners (51 percent) report they often book a destination or property they have used before. Cost is the driving factor, with three-quarters of planners noting price as their main reason; relationships with staff came in second at 56 percent). A year ago, relationships with staff was the highest-ranking reason for repeat visits, at 66 percent.

The challenge of inflation is evident in the nearly 69 percent of planners who say rising costs (airline, gas, hotel, food and beverage, etc.) and/or space scarcity have caused them to rethink events plans. Of those respondents, the highest number (45 percent) are considering moving events closer to attendees as an alternative, with only 29 percent considering hybrid meetings (a separate question also showed a decline in hybrid meetings, with 80 percent saying they do not plan to incorporate hybrid elements into their 2023 in-person gatherings).

Despite rising costs, nearly 56 percent of planners in our survey say they do not plan to increase registration fees; our October 2022 survey showed nearly the flip of this number, with more than 53 percent reporting they do plan to increase prices.

What CVBs say

Fortunately, 83 percent of CVBs answering our survey say they have not had to implement any cost-cutting measures in the past year. That’s a big improvement over our March 2022 results in which nearly 64 percent said they had made cost cuts in the previous year, with 29 percent laying off staff and 14 percent furloughing employees. The vast majority of CVBs also say their 2022 budget exceeded expectations.

Of the 17 percent of CVBs who reported making cost cuts in the past year, zero say those cuts included furloughing or laying off staff. Half of all CVB respondents say their staff size is the same as pre-pandemic, and nearly 42 percent report having a larger staff now. Additionally, more than half of CVBs (55 percent) say they plan to add staff now that in-person meetings have returned. One third of those CVBs say finding qualified, knowledgeable, and reliable employees is
a challenge.

It is clear from our results that CVBs like a personal touch, with 80 percent saying their preferred method of receiving RFPs is directly from planners rather than through an online form or third party. And 90 percent of the CVBs in our survey say their percent of repeat business ranges from 21 percent to 80 percent. The most successful methods of CVB marketing also are personal: The two largest percentages are direct sales and industry conferences, at 30 percent each.

Commonalities and differences

Both planners and CVBs in our survey share the same challenges: rising costs and staffing shortages. Among planners, the largest number (80 percent) report their biggest challenge is rising costs, followed by staffing shortages (69 percent), new or higher fees at hotels and resorts (64 percent), and tighter budgets (62 percent). Health concerns, once top of mind, fell to 20 percent.

This jibes with the top concerns CVBs say they are hearing from planners: rising costs (100 percent of CVBs have heard planners note this challenge), followed by higher fees at hotels and resorts (90 percent), and staffing shortages/reduced service levels at venues (70 percent). Only 10 percent of CVBs report that planners have mentioned concerns about health. Among the biggest challenges CVBs themselves are facing, 90 percent say rising costs, 70 percent say staffing shortages at suppliers/vendors, and half say competition for space.

Nearly 73 percent of planners say the destinations and venues they use are experiencing staffing shortages. A whopping 91 percent noted food and beverage as being understaffed, followed by housekeeping and cleaning staff at 78 percent. CVBs noted the same concerns, with F&B and housekeeping tied for the top spot at 90 percent each. Despite those challenges, 90 percent of CVB participants say that has not negatively impacted their relationship with planners.

Staffing issues at CVBs also are a concern. Of the 30 percent of planners who say there has been a noticeable turnover or reduction of staff at the CVBs they work with, more than 69 percent say that has negatively affected their planning efforts due to the loss of a trusted CVB contact (78 percent) and an even split between slower response times and new staff members not being as knowledgeable (67 percent each). However, not one planner reported no longer using CVBs due to staffing issues.

Of the CVB respondents, half say their staff size is the same as pre-pandemic, and 42 percent say their staff size is larger. Only 8.3 percent say they have a smaller number of employees. More good news: Nearly
55 percent of CVBs in our survey report they plan to add staff now that in-person meetings have returned. Barriers CVBs say they face in adding staff are finding qualified candidates and knowledgeable and reliable employees.

Only 30 percent of CVBs report hearing planner concerns about slow RFP response times. The same percent also say they have not had to institute a reduction in services that were provided to planners pre-pandemic, and half say their RFP response time is one to two days (followed by 30 percent at three to six days and 10 percent each saying one to two weeks or longer).

However, while 66 percent of planners say they rely on CVBs for RFPs, only 19 percent say they receive an RFP response from a CVB within one to two days; most (44 percent) say the average RFP response time is three to six days (21 percent say one to two weeks, and 16 percent report response times longer than two weeks).

Nearly one third of planner participants say they are frustrated by slower CVB response times and that it slows their planning process. But the greatest number (nearly 40 percent) expressed understanding of the current climate in which we are all trying to do more with less. They give high marks to CVBs for sharing RFPs with venues that are a good fit (65.1 percent), and about three-quarters of respondents strongly agree or slightly agree that CVBs suggest hotels in line with their room block and budgetary needs and accurately promote their destination’s ability to handle their meetings. More than 81 percent of planners do not believe venue selection technology will reduce the relevance of CVBs in the foreseeable future.

What the comments reveal

We received a lot of comments to our questions about what planners and CVBs could do to help each other and what each wants the other to understand.

Planners want CVBs to know they are representing the needs of their clients and working with tighter budgets. Several also stated they would like CVBs to give small groups the same attention as large groups.

CVBs want planners to know it sometimes is the hotel or venue causing a delayed response. CVBs also note they are trying to balance not only business demands, but the increase in tourism travel, as well, and ask planners to try to give them more lead time.

One CVB participant asked planners to be cognizant of the size of the CVB they are working with, saying: “I am a one-person office. It may take me a day or two longer than a CVB with a larger staff.”

On a positive note, 90 percent of CVBs say they currently are offering incentives for qualified groups to meet in their destination.

Constructive and productive relationships grow when rooted in better understanding. Our survey results highlight that both planners and CVBs are looking for the same thing: clear communication; reaching out and being proactive in initiating contact; understanding needs, goals, budgets, and expectations; timeliness, responsiveness, and follow-up; attention to detail; and patience with each other and with new venue staff.

As one planner commented in our survey, “Relationships never go out of style.”

Editor’s note – For more in-depth statistics on the survey, check out our March digital edition

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