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Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau Acts Fast to Implement Meeting
 Planner Incentive Program to Lure Groups for 2009 and 2010
By Brian J. Pedersen, The Arizona Daily Star, TucsonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 10, 2008 --For the frugal meeting planner looking to save a few thousand bucks, the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau has a deal for you:

Book a large enough block of hotel rooms for at least two nights and save as much as $20,000 off the total bill.

The Meeting Planner Incentive Program, set to begin today through a marketing campaign, is an effort by the bureau and area hotels and resorts to reverse the drop in convention and meeting business that has coincided with dips in nearly every other facet of the travel and tourism industry.

"Because of the economy and some of the situations that are occurring, and the fact that companies are looking for the best deals they can get, we were looking for ways to turn meeting planners' heads," bureau spokeswoman Kimberly Schmitz said.

The program, which Schmitz says has received the full support of all 140 of bureau's lodging partners, offers credits of between $1,000 and $10,000 per event, depending on the number of peak rooms booked.

Multiyear events for both 2009 and 2010 are eligible for incentive funding for both years.

The concept of using incentives to lure meetings and conventions is cropping up in destinations across the country, bureau President Jonathan Walker.

"What we wanted to do was something proactive, not reactive," Walker said.

Walker said cities such as Cincinnati and New Orleans are going so far as to give free convention-center space to qualifying groups to help turn around their dwindling conference business.

"It's down all over the country. It's not just Tucson," Walker said.

It's been a record year for the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa, according to marketing and sales director Matt Brode.

But 2009 is looking much thinner, with many groups that normally would have booked by now holding off to see if a better deal can be found elsewhere.

"Our clients are really looking for value in their destination; they're looking for a return on their investment," Brode said.

"We rely on the financial companies who make up a good portion of our business. Some of those meetings have yet to be booked."

Walker said the Meeting Planner Incentive Program could be just the right enticement to get a group to book its convention in Tucson and possibly use the savings to add a reception or some other kind of outing to the itinerary of the visitors.

"Everybody's got their own incentive program out there, but we think the way the bureau has partnered with us in the hotel community is going to make a tremendous difference in 2009," Brode said.

Any credit a group receives will be applied to its master account with the hotel the group is staying at, with the bureau and the hotel splitting that cost evenly.

Walker said the bureau's half of the credit will come from funds that would have been used for other forms of marketing and advertising.

"Rather than spend $20,000 in an ad in a magazine that someone might see and might remember ... we'd rather do something a little more instantaneous," Walker said.

Schmitz said the bureau will mail out information on the incentive program to approximately 22,000 potential clients. In addition, program details will be sent to about 10,000 e-mail addresses.

Because the plan is new, Walker said no specific goal has been set as far as the number of additional bookings the incentive program will bring to the region.

"If we can stimulate the market in any way possible, it's a benefit," Walker said.

It pays to stay in Tucson

The Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau, in cooperation with area hotels and resorts, is offering incentives to groups looking to hold meetings and conventions here.

Peak rooms booked Credit

25-50 $1,000

51-100 $2,500

101-200 $5,000

200 or more $10,000

Peak rooms is a term used to define when the maximum number of rooms in a group is booked. Each peak room has to be booked for a minimum of two nights to qualify.

The incentives are for events in 2009 or 2010. Groups booking multiyear events in both years can receive double credit, up to $20,000.

--Contact reporter Brian J. Pedersen at 573-4224 or bjp@azstarnet.com.

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To see more of The Arizona Daily Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.azstarnet.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

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