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Hotel Common Sense

“A Bakers Dozen” of Observations for Cooperative Efforts
for Successful  Convention & Visitors’ Bureaus
 

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by  Dr. John Hogan, CHA MHS CHE

May 2, 2008

Top ten lists are often quoted or used to catch people’s attention, but this series has been expanded to be certain that no one is “short-changed.”   The number thirteen has evolved into what is called “baker’s dozen”.

Following is A Bakers Dozen  of Strategies for the partnerships found in successful Convention & Visitors’ Bureaus 
 

People have been known to achieve more as a result of working with others than against them.   Dr. Allan Fromme 

This article is intended to offer a perspective for both members and staffs of convention and visitors’ bureaus and to reinforce the fundamentals of a potentially wonderful resource for many areas and businesses.

1. Begin by remembering the fundamentals of why convention and visitors’ bureaus were created in the first place. 

Groups of businesses historically evolved to promote the “common good” or common goals of making those businesses successful.  In many cities, Chambers of Commerce initially took the lead in as the initiator of projects.   As businesses became more specialized, the need for a focused group became more apparent.                   

This idea is hardly new. The web site for the Detroit Convention and Visitors’ Bureau states that “....1896,  the year of the ‘horseless carriage,’ which  eventually made Detroit the automotive capital of the world,  was also the year Detroit journalist Milton Carmichael revved up an equally important invention - the world's first convention & visitor's bureau.   At that time, spending money to bring conventions to a city was a questionable endeavor and, just like the automobile, the Bureau experienced a bumpy start. ........ but soon the Bureau had proved itself and was on the road to continuing success.  In fact, the formula was so successful that similar organizations in virtually every major city worldwide would use the Detroit Bureau as their model.  In Carmichael's own words, ‘Originally, the idea of spending money to bring conventions to a city was so unheard of that even the hotel man could not see it.  Now even the bellboys are wise.’ Since its inception, the DMCVB has played an active role in the Detroit area's growth.”  1    

2. Take into account all of the components or “gears” of today’s convention and visitors’ bureaus

The CVBs of today do not only  promote and serve the Convention Center and the large hotels of their city.  In addition to those two beneficiaries, CVBs also support attractions,  entertainment centers (including museums, zoos, arenas, theatres, special events, etc), hotels of all sizes and types within the general area, lounges and night clubs, retail shopping of many types, restaurants across the board in offerings  and transportation networks ranging  from  airports to cruise lines’ support services to local limo companies to taxis to trains.            

CVBs support all of these and more by coordinating the actions of these groups in a cooperative effort that is more effective than independent and individual marketing. Their comprehensive and researched approach allows businesses that may be competitors in their markets to work with a unified plan that allows the city or community to all benefit from the combined and coordinated effort.   

3. Keep the focus on both parts of the CVB target  

The “C” is the convention aspect of a CVBs target.   This is an incredibly competitive market and requires research to target the potential convention, corporate meetings, association or other group that may be considering locations for several years out.   

Professionals from the CVB provide a wide range of services for their constituents listed in #2 such as coordinating hotel or transportation bids, synchronizing sales presentations, site inspections, and/or arranging meeting needs including hotel rooms, transportation and convention space rentals. 

The “V” of course is the visitor aspect of a CVB client.  This has been overlooked at times by some communities, but it too is an incredibly competitive market .   An advantage of the Visitor aspect of the market is that they come in smaller numbers spread out over the entire year.  Their needs and  diversity can usually blend into a very wide range of the community and can include bus tour groups, youth or religious groups, individuals interested in a historical or natural site, families traveling and stopping along  their itinerary and more.   Visitors Welcome Centers are major distribution points for information, maps and often impulse decisions to stay an additional night if they find something of particular interest.     

4. Listen first and then contribute your perspective.                  

The first three items provide the very basics of whom a CVB serves.   It is critical for all partners to recognize the need for someone to provide major coordination efforts and to politically interact with the city or community public officials and services.  While it is should be logical that everyone welcomes visitors, the presence of large numbers of visitors in a community can sometimes seem disruptive and the need to work within the system is a crucial service.  

5. Every CVB partner should regularly communicate with their entire staff on sales and marketing programs, challenges and needs – remember, the results of sales and marketing efforts affect everyone on staff regardless of title or position.   

If you are the owner or manager of a business that is served by CVB efforts, you already have regular communications on operations, but not necessarily on sales and marketing activities.  Look for ways to positively inform all staff about what is important and going on both today and long term in the community at large.   The most successful businesses are those that have open dialogue and build pride by inclusion of all staff.

6. Set Realistic operating budgets. 

Budgets are often painfully developed and come from a series of sources.

  • These include hotel room tax revenues that use a certain percentage of the room tax to be used for either CVB promotion or in some cases for convention center construction and/or subsidy.    There is a risk if the CVB budget comes totally from this source, as revenues may vary and the city council or other legislative review body may decide in consequent years to re-allocate some or all of the tax. 
  • Some states and provinces have a matching funds program to help boost overall visitor spending in the state or province.       
  • Many CVBs coordinate cooperative advertising campaign, which allows higher profile positioning for those interested in participating while maintaining an overall city or community promotional effort. 
  • Almost all CVBs have some kind of membership dues program that provides a foundation for both long term planning and ongoing operations.
  • Supplemental funding through rebates or contributions to CVB provided services are also used by a good number of bureaus.
  • As competition continues to increase, the need to find creative, ethical and equitable ways of supporting  the community efforts are essential.
7. Utilize the training offered by many CVBs in hospitality programs. 

We all recognize that staff turnover can affect a community’s success in welcoming visitors.  A number of US cities including Nashville, Philadelphia and San Diego among others have offered HOST programs that provide free or low cost training to many of the people who come in contact with visitors.  The state of Montana attacked the problem and created their own state wide system. 2

One of the most extensive and resilient programs comes from British Columbia  with their Tourismbc.com 3 and  SuperHost® Fundamentals that was created in 1985 to prepare BC's tourism workforce to host the world at EXPO 86. SuperHost Fundamentals today is a one-day workshop that teaches front-line employees the skills and techniques that comprise the basics of service professionalism.  It is delivered by certified SuperHost trainers and can be customized to address specific customer service training needs for any business or employer.  The five key SuperHost Fundamental commitments to help BC's tourism workforce "go that extra mile" are: 

Give fully
Respect everyone
Empathize with others
Excel at your job
Teamwork works
8. Everybody Sells
     
Effective sales and marketing professionals adopted this mantra years ago.   Every member of your staff belongs to a family or a church or a social organization or some other group that occasionally has the need for community hospitality  services.   Sometimes incentives are the key to get staff to think about recommending your community services and other times it is simply asking them to help themselves by offering the information about your city.   

9. Review your CVBs reports monthly and evaluate its effectiveness compared with the marketing  and business plan.     

Plans are just that – groundwork that anticipates how activities will produce results.   Effective professionals and managers help themselves and their community by understanding how to assess the results of those activities and which customers best fit their communities’  offerings.  Markets shift and what used to be a tour market might shift to a youth or other SMERF demand generator.  The constant change in hotel supply or having the right space in convention centers could mean changes in your community’s trends.   Watching and positively responding to those trends is essential.

10. CVB leadership must be maintained and supported .

In good times of a sellers’ market, many hotels and other hospitality partners unfortunately tend to act as order takers because the belief is that there will always be another customer.   In hard times or a buyer’s market, the skills of effective sales professionals become obvious. What we as an industry need to realize is that there are always business cycles and those trends are not always self evident.   Most hotel and restaurant brands have excellent training programs available, as well as services provided by state and provincial hospitality associations.

CVB focus is unique and an international resource is Destination Marketing Association International. This group is dedicated to improving the effectiveness of over 1,500 professionals from 625+ destination marketing organizations in more than 25 countries. 

Their web site (http://www.iacvb.org/) offers their members sample bureau operations documents, bureau research statistics and a Resource Center striving to act as a referral source of other industry-related information such as:
 

• Board of Directors  
• Brand Resources
• Calendars of Industry Meetings & Events 
• Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) Unedited Final Papers 
• Compensation/Salary and Wage Information 
• Compensatory Time Policies
• Convention Center Research and Issues 
• Convention Delegate Spending Information--Historical (formerly ExPact Study) 
• Crisis Communications/Crisis Management 
• DMAI Idea Fair Entries
• DMO Bylaws, Code of Ethics and Conflict of Interest Policies 
• DMO General Information 
• Education Session Materials from IACVB & Destination Marketing Conferences 
• Employee Policies & Manuals 
• Employment Contracts - Executive Level
• Foundations - Getting Started  Global Resources
• Glossaries of Industry Terms 
• Industry Outreach 
• Job Descriptions for DMO Positions 
• Job Search links for DMOs and related industry positions 
• Marketing 
• Membership 
• Niche Market Segments 
• Operations, Environmental & Financial Tax Issues 
• Performance Reporting 
• Request for Proposals (RFP) 
• Research 
• Sports 
• Telecommuting Policies 
• Trade Press List and Industry Blogs 

11. Maintaining positive public relations in the home town community is critical.

While the primary role of the CVB is to attract visitors and groups from “away” to their community, successful bureaus recognize the essential need to communicate the value of hospitality and tourism to the community.   This is perhaps easier in larger metropolitan areas where literally hundreds of thousands of visitors have a highly visible impact on the local economy. Smaller communities may have a greater need to be reminded of the positive role the CVB plays by a combination of networking with as many of the partners as possible as well as sharing the ROI of the investments made into the promotional efforts. 

12.  Strengthening strategic partnerships is a must.

CVBs have been promoting and marketing their destinations for more than 100 years, with the goal to bring additional visitors and revenues to their community. The marketplace has become truly global in the last generation, with literally hundreds of thousands of meeting attendees at all sizes of events. Youth, religious, reunion, seniors and many more niche groups have evolved.  
   
Definitions of “partnership” include joint ventures, which means the partners must regularly interact if they are to be successful.  These strategic players include CVB membership, the governing board of the CVB, industry trade associations, the media, local, state/provincial government  and the groups using the services of the CVB.    The business plan of successful CVBs address these needs.

13. Network and understand the industry to continually improve 

The following two links connect to listings of Canadian and United States convention and visitors bureaus and related organizations. The ideas that can be gleaned with some research and networking are worth the efforts.
http://www.conventionbureaus.com/
http://www.2chambers.com/
 

1 What is the DMCVB? www.visitdetroit.com
2 http://montanasuperhost.com
3 http://www.tourism.bc.ca/training_services_backgrounders.asp?id=1223   SuperHost® Programs



Feel free to share an idea or to contact me regarding consulting and speaking engagements at johnjhogan@yahoo.com anytime and remember – we all need a regular dose of common sense. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication 

All rights reserved by John Hogan.   This column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.

John Hogan’s professional experience includes over 35 years in hotel operations, food & beverage, sales & marketing, training, management development and asset management on both a single and multi-property basis.  He holds a number of industry certifications and is a past recipient of the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Pearson Award for Excellence in Lodging Journalism, as well as operational and marketing awards from international brands.  He has served as President of both city and state hotel associations.

John’s background includes teaching college level courses as an adjunct professor at three different colleges and universities over a 20 year period, while managing with Sheraton, Hilton, Omni and independent hotels.  He was the principal in an independent training & consulting group for more than 12 years serving associations, management groups, convention & visitors’ bureaus, academic institutions and as an expert witness.  He joined Best Western International in spring of 2000, where over the next 8 years he created and developed a blended learning system as the Director of Education & Cultural Diversity for the world’s largest hotel chain. 

He has served on several industry boards that deal with education and/or cultural diversity and as brand liaison to the NAACP and the Asian American Hotel Owners’ Association with his ongoing involvement in the Certified Hotel Owner program.  He has conducted an estimated 3,100 workshops and seminars in his career.  He served as senior vice president for a client in a specialty hotel brand for six years.

He has published more than 350 articles & columns on the hotel industry and is co-author (with Howard Feiertag, CHA CMP) of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD – a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES, which is available from a range of industry sources and AMAZON.com.  He resides in Phoenix, Arizona and is finalizing his 2nd book based on his dissertation –     The Top 100 People of All Time Who Most Dramatically Affected the Hotel Industry.

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Contact:

Dr. John Hogan
johnjhogan@yahoo.com 
 

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Also See: Remembering Tony Marshall, The Messenger of “Reasonable Care” / John Hogan / Hotel Common Sense / March 2007
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