Great networking opportunities; a relaxed environment for meet-ups; unique venues for off-site events; and a wonderful and welcoming host destination. These aspects of Rendezvous South 2020 (RS 2020), held March 2 to 4 in Winston-Salem, N.C., received the highest praise from participants. It was the sixth edition of the popular event, produced by ConventionSouth magazine.
According to Ashleigh Osborne, associate publisher of ConventionSouth, this year’s attendees were a mixture of “RS Vets” who have attended the event several times, and many newcomers, “making it feel like a ‘get-acquainted’ event combined with a reunion where everyone was having a great time.”
Both first-timers and returnees had many great things to say about their experiences.
“Bravo, bravo, bravo Rendezvous South!” said Stephanie Watson, luxury meeting, event, and travel planner for DZS Luxury Meetings & Events, based in Southfield, Mich.
“As a first-time attendee and established independent planner of 20-plus years, I simply loved the experience. I attend a plethora of similar events for suppliers and buyers and this one was indeed one of my favorite and most appropriate for the clientele I serve,” Watson added. “The relaxed environment, excellent selection of suppliers and pleasant demeanor, and welcoming spirit of the RS staff and hosting CVB made the event simply marvelous.”
David N. Bruce, MMP, HTS, managing partner of CMP Meeting Services based in Granbury, Tex., has attended Rendezvous South for several years because he values the way the conference brings representatives from southern hotels and CVBs together in one room to create a one-stop shop for meeting planners.
“I thought this was probably the best arranged conference and will be difficult to top in the future. ConventionSouth hit a home run with the RS 2020 event in Winston-Salem,” he said. “The quality of the event and the superb location was a home run, and Winston-Salem pulled out the red carpet for the attendees and it showed.”
Warren Isenhour, president of Isenhour International, an independent planning firm based in Murfreesboro, Tenn., added, “meeting new suppliers opens doors to new colleagues and destinations,” while re-connecting with previous supplier contacts, “offers a chance to revisit with each other and to build on existing relationships which may help you in closing future business.”
An Interactive Conference Experience
In addition to 30 event planners from across the U.S., 98 suppliers representing 38 Southern destinations, including convention and visitors bureaus, hotels, and special event venues participated in RS 2020. As the only hosted-buyer event for meeting planners exclusively designed for networking jointly with destinations and meeting sites located across the South, Rendezvous South helps attendees build working relationships with pre-scheduled 12-minute appointments in a relaxed lounge-style setting.
This year, the face-to-face meetings took place in the Benton Convention Center, which recently underwent a $20 million renovation, and is one of the largest meeting facilities in North Carolina.
Several participants expressed appreciation for the relaxed environment and comfortable seating arrangements Rendezvous South provides.
“The style and format of the show were fantastic compared to the many other tradeshow style events I have attended in recent years,” said Caroline Thomas, sales manager at Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach, Ala.
There was also a lot of enthusiasm for the host city as well.
“Growing up in North Carolina, about an hour and a half from Winston-Salem, I had been there before,” Isenhour said. “But this trip allowed me to see it in a new light and to experience the growth and changes that have occurred. I thoroughly enjoyed the city and all venues.”
Bruce spoke highly of the host city’s preparation for RS 2020.
“I am a big fan of Winston-Salem, and the way the hotel community and the Benton Convention Center worked together shows the importance this show meant to the people of [the city],” he said. “The food quality at the center was excellent and the events were well-thought-out and well executed.”
Connecting By Showing Gratitude
Scott Colby, founder of Say it With Gratitude, a program focusing on children’s issues including health, hunger, child abuse, bullying, and education, was the featured keynote speaker at the opening luncheon. He spoke about showing gratitude in every day in both personal and professional settings, and explained people need to make kindness normal.
“If we could shift our way of thinking to find beauty in each day and find something to be grateful for, then actually express it to the people in our lives, we can be the difference someone needs,” he asserted. “Gratitude can unify us and bring us more happiness and connection.”
Colby also discussed how easy it is to hide behind a screen and dole out insults, and how much this behavior affects people. Reflecting on his travels to Guatemala, where he helped build school rooms for children, Colby was humbled by how thankful and appreciative they were. The people there had little to nothing, yet were willing to invite him in and share anything they had, he said.
Offering advice to meeting professionals, Colby pointed out people cannot be their best at helping other people if they are not taking care of themselves. Living with a gratitude mindset and keeping a gratitude journal were some ways he suggested ways to take care of oneself.
“Be specific and write down what your thankful for and why,” he suggested.
He further advised the group to “flip the gratitude switch,” and find the awesome in negative situations. For example, when stuck in traffic, a typical reaction is to be angry because we can’t control the situation. However, we can control our reactions, and instead of being angry we can remember not everyone has a car.
“Our mind tends to focus on the negative things through the day, so start writing down your wins during the day,” Colby said. “On the hard days, pull out the slips of paper and remind yourself what you have to be thankful for and what you’ve accomplished.”
In Colby’s view, handwritten notes of appreciation, often lost art in this digital age, can be much more meaningful than sending texts or emails.
Unique Networking Opportunities
Cities which host Rendezvous South have a great opportunity to show off special event venues in the community, and Winston-Salem offered RS 2020 participants some very memorable experiences.
The kick-off cocktail Party was held at Butcher & Bull, a new restaurant at the Winston-Salem Marriott, which offers a contemporary take on traditional steakhouses, using fresh ingredients sourced from local farmers and artisans. Newly renovated in 2019, the hotel is connected to the convention center.
The opening reception at the historic 55-acre Graylyn Estate & Conference Center, characterized by attendees as “fantastic,” “phenomenal,” and “very cool,” allowed participants to explore the 1930s mansion which was turned into a hotel and modern conference facility.
Hosted by the Visit Winston-Salem team and Graylyn, a globally-inspired dinner took attendees on a trip around the world, immersing the group into different foods and cultures in each room, with food passports stamped for each represented country.
Following the meet-up sessions on Tuesday afternoon, RS 2020 participants boarded the city’s historic trolleys, Miss Salem and Col. Winston, for a short ride to the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel. This 174-room hotel opened in 2016 following the transformation of the Reynolds Building, an Art Deco structure dating back to 1929 and provided architectural inspiration for the Empire State Building in New York City.
A reception held in the Rec Room got the group active with an adult-sized slide, bowling lanes, a pool table, and giant Scrabble board. Delicious hors d’oerves, smooth libations, and fun music created the perfect environment to unwind from a day full of meetings. During the Downtown Dine-Around following the reception, RS 2020 attendees had a chance to check out local restaurants and bars.
A 1920s-themed finale luncheon featured the talents of Gracie and Lacy, who sang, tap-danced, told stories, and got participants up on their feet to join in the fun.
Just before the official closing of RS 2020, it was announced that Lake Charles, La., will be the host city for the 2021 event. Taylor Beard Stanley, senior sales manager at Visit Lake Charles, praised both the ConventionSouth team and Visit Winston-Salem for an excellent job coordinating this year’s event, and pledged to offer another great experience next year.
“The entire team at Visit Lake Charles is looking forward to hosting Rendezvous South in 2021,” she said. “We know this will be a great opportunity for our destination to showcase the diverse offerings we have for conventions, meetings, and other group business.
“We are currently in the early phases of planning Rendezvous South 2021, but I am certain that everyone will have memorable experiences in ‘Louisiana’s Playground’,” she added. “The attendees will get to experience the delicious food and rich culture of Louisiana all while having beneficial meet-up sessions.”
Stanley highly values the connections she has made at this year’s and previous Rendezvous South gatherings.
“I’ve participated in many trade shows, and Rendezvous South is one of my favorites,” she said. “The longer appointments really give you a chance to build relationships outside of just talking meeting specs. The other networking opportunities do a great job of their primary responsibility- networking, but at the same time showcasing really neat things in a destination.
“I believe this is one of the most beneficial trade shows to attend both for a meeting planner and a destination team, but it’s extra advantageous for destinations to host Rendezvous South. As much as I love promoting Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana at different trade shows, you can’t beat having people in your destination to experience it,” she added.