How to forge a successful relationship: CVBs and planners share their expertise

Green spaces outside convention centers provide a place for people to engage and build relationships between sessions.
Green spaces outside convention centers provide a place for people to engage and build relationships between sessions.

Successful event planning lies in the details. Filling in those details is a team sport that starts with strong relationships between planners and CVBs. “Circumventing the CVB means the planner is missing out on a lot of opportunities to help them along the way,” says Renee Lalanne-Wuerdeman, vice president of sales for Visit Panama City Beach in Florida. “Getting the CVB involved in the booking process paints a complete picture for the meeting planner.”

Relationships with hotel and venue staff also matter, but starting those first steps in the process—from submitting RFPs to familiarization tours—with a CVB can save time and stress and begin a relationship that lasts throughout the planning process. Among the most valuable of the free CVB services is having an area expert in your corner.

“I will never know a city as well as the individuals who live there and work every day to promote it,” says Heather Herrig, president and chief event strategist of Every Last Detail in Atlanta. “By developing a great relationship with the CVB, I can partner with them early in the planning process to gain that understanding and knowledge about the city through them. Their insight is invaluable.”

Planner Kimberly Bean agrees. When one of Bean’s clients wanted to host an event in an unfamiliar destination, she reached out to the local CVB, and the help was immediate.

“They arranged for me to have a personal site visit and tour the different spaces they thought would work well for my group, as well as meet with chefs and experience activities for myself that my client might like,” says Bean, owner of KBT Creative Support Services in Nashville, Tenn. “They had a well-planned itinerary and met me when I arrived in town. I couldn’t have asked for better help or a better resource. They were like having a team of people working with me—a team incredibly knowledgeable about their city.”

Reaching out to the CVB helped lead to a successful event. “I had so much information to take back to my client, and my client fell in love with the destination,” Bean says. “We booked it and hosted the event there, and it went so well, they are ready to go right back again this year.”

Relationships form the foundation of the meetings and events industry, and success stories like Bean’s can happen when planners forge a connection with CVBs, VCBs, DMOs, or local chambers of commerce. ConventionSouth spoke with planners and CVBs around the South to find out what they need from each other to build that bond.

Relationships are a balancing act, but working together lifts us all.
Relationships are a balancing act, but working together lifts us all.

The planner perspective

Planners overwhelmingly acknowledge CVBs are an extended member of the planning team. Their expertise forms the best source of information on a destination, potential partners, hotels, and activities. But there is room for improvement.

Spread the news

One of the top asks of CVBs by many planners: newsletters. Providing up-to-date information on a regular basis covering what’s going on in the destination can be invaluable.

“A quarterly newsletter with updates on things like hotel openings and construction, upcoming events, and anything unique to that destination is incredibly helpful,” says Lauren Andrews, vice president of Meeting Expectations in Atlanta. “Other great things
for CVBs to share through a newsletter would be highlights of local businesses or properties and maybe even promotional videos.”

Success stories from recent events in the destination also top Andrews’ list of helpful information. “Hearing how an in-person event went and getting details on how large the event was, anything that had to be changed due to COVID-19, and general execution success is always something planners are looking to hear,” Andrews says. “Testimonials from planners would be big, too.”

Proactive visits

Meeting face to face with anyone in the last two years has not been an easy task, but having CVBs make the effort to present to planners, whether in person or virtually, goes a long way in building a relationship, Andrews adds.

“We recently had CVB reps physically come to our office and sit down and talk to two of our team members, and I could see the lightbulb go off,” Andrews says. “Within three weeks, we had events for that city go to contract, and that’s because the CVB reps came to our office to showcase their city to our planners. The city wasn’t even on the radar, and they got business from investing that time.”

Don’t hold back

In today’s environment, planners often are doing more with less. Limited time and resources make planners appreciate when CVBs jump in and share ideas, including offsite activities and dining.

“Sometimes, I feel CVBs can be timid about sharing too much, trying not to overstep or insinuate themselves too much in the process, but I welcome that,” Herrig says. “I want to hear from the CVB what’s fun to do or a unique off-the-beaten-path experience my group may enjoy or even sharing details about how another group used a space and how it worked out well. Speaking up and offering ideas like that is great to me.”

André Wells, founder and CEO of Events by André Wells in Washington, believes today’s meeting and event planning world has changed so much that the more information CVBs share, the better. “So many companies have downsized or gone out of business or partnered with different people,” Wells says. “A planner isn’t necessarily able to keep up with that in different cities. It’s good to have all the information and know what you’re getting into before making promises to your clients.”

Collaboration allows us to create things larger than ourselves, an age-old concept that is key to survival.
Collaboration allows us to create things larger than ourselves, an age-old concept that is key to survival.

Attend industry shows

Networking is critical, especially for independent planners. Travel-industry shows provide great networking opportunities, and given the time, effort, and cost of attending, it’s critical for planners to meet as many CVB representatives at those events as possible.

“As a small business owner, that has been the biggest help for me and one of the best tools I have,” Bean says. “By attending, I have met so many in the industry. If I didn’t have those relationships, it would be difficult, if
not impossible.”

Herrig echoes that sentiment. Broadening knowledge of what destinations are out there can come in handy in the future. “You may think you’d never have a group for a particular city, but that can quickly change,” Herrig says. “Making that initial contact with a CVB provides some sort of a foundation for a relationship you may need one day.”

Follow up

After a meeting or event is over, some destination officials might move on to the next piece of business. But for planners, a follow-up to find out how the meeting or event went is welcome.

Michael Heckman, president and CEO of Houston First Corporation, does that. He suggests: “Ask if there were any issues or anything unresolved. The effort to ask and make sure every need was met and if not, how it could be fulfilled, is very much appreciated.”

The CVB perspective

Relationships are a two-way street. And while the benefits of having a strong relationship extend to CVBs, they need planners to help them.

Details, details, details

Among the most important things CVBs say they want from planners: details. “It’s important to us that planners know we are here to help,” says Bryan Kunz, director of group sales for Visit Galveston in Texas. “We want to know exactly what the planners’ goals are and how we can best help them. We consider ourselves an extension of their team when they are here and beforehand as well, so we want to know as much as possible about their event and what they are hoping to achieve.”

In addition, CVBs want planners to share what they want to avoid. “In making sure we know what’s important to the planner or group, that includes potential negatives,” says Janet Roach, meetings and conventions director for Visit Tallahassee in Florida. “Many planners are good about sharing what they need in a destination, but we want to also know their hot buttons. What is a definite no? Where can we be flexible? What concessions are required, and which can be negotiated?”

Don’t reinvent the wheel

As experts on their destination and its promotion, CVBs have promotional materials that can save planners time, effort, and money.

“CVBs have things like photo libraries and sizzle reels that can be used for attendance-building, websites, and other ways to really help sell the destination and help with attendance,” Roach says. “CVBs want to share that to showcase the destination and help visitors know what to expect and what they can do when there.”

It’s never too late

For planners who have never used the services of a CVB—or haven’t in a long time—tourism experts advise reaching out to see how the bureau can help. “The planner can go directly to hotels to book and plan their meetings, but if they do, they are missing out on so many great amenities offered through the CVB,” Lalanne-Wuerdeman says. “CVBs help with so many things: transportation to offsite events, amenities which may perk up registration, and all sorts of other things that can enhance the meeting. Oftentimes, planners don’t know that unless they stop to think about the CVB.”

And even if planners don’t include a CVB in initial planning, they can ask for assistance later. “If the planner gets stuck somewhere along the way or something isn’t working like it should, contact the CVB and ask if there is anything we can do to help,” Lalanne-Wuerdeman advises. “We want to be valuable to a planner. We’re here to help them look like superstars.

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