By Dr. Peter Tarlow
Meeting & Convention Planners (MCPs) play a vital part of the tourism industry. Not only do they often decide what community will receive a lucrative convention but their opinions also matter in the way a community is perceived and as such they act as part of a community’s unofficial marketing team. Not only do their opinions matter, but tourism convention and meeting cities would be wise to remember that perceptions are often more powerful than facts and style all too often takes precedence over substance.
Additionally there is a growing trend of conventioneers using the pre or post-convention period as a way to combine business with pleasure. The meeting or convention is not only a way to increase business but also provides additional vacation opportunities for the visitor and additional revenue for the host community.
That merging of business and pleasure can also mean that those attending a successful conference, meeting or convention are likely transfer their positive business experience to the hotel, resort, and community in which the event took place.
On the opposite side of the coin, snafus do occur and when these errors happen, often the host community or its reputation is the first to suffer. Never forget that tourism is the selling of dreams, and the meeting planner can go a long way to ensuring that the visit to your community, hotel, or attraction is one to remember rather than a nightmare that a visitor might want to forget.
Convention and meeting planners then are an integral part of any locale’s marketing efforts. National tourism offices, tourism professionals or convention and visitor bureaus need to find ways to integrate the CMP into the locale’s marketing efforts. Unfortunately, there are times when one side or the other fails recognize this needed interaction. When meeting planners see their job as nothing more than organizing and facilitating a meeting or convention, then the entire community loses.
To help everyone in tourism better to communicate with meeting planners, "Tourism Tidbits" offers the following for your consideration.
• Good business is when everyone wins. That means that everyone needs to understand the other person’s needs. CMP are looking to satisfy their clients and seek to get the best deal for the least cost. Tourism officials seek to put “heads in beds”, fill hotels and create the most income for their constituency. For both sides to win they need to understand the negotiation from each other’s perspective.
• Offer a course about the tourism of your community to local tourism providers. Often each tourism industry component forgets that it is part of a total experience. Visitors and CMPs do not judge a community by one single criterion but rather look at the total package. Ask local hoteliers and attraction representatives to help co-teach the course, allowing all parts of the industry to understand each other’s needs and requirements.
• Attracting the Right Meeting for Your Community. Not every community is the right location for every meeting or convention When trying to attract a convention or meeting to your community consider the following even before you send out that promotional literature along with your bid:
1. Create a complete inventory of what your city can offer a company for a successful meeting: List those items that a meeting would need, prioritize these items, and see what your community has and lacks.
2. Know what your city/site has to offer: Grade your city according to such categories as: travel time, transportation arteries, facilities available, and types of attractions.
3. Know what your city/site does not offer: Analyze the reasons you would not want to meet in your locale. What drawbacks do you need to overcome?
4. Know that not all meetings are the same: Different types of conventions require different facilities. Remember not every city is right for every type of meeting. Go after the meeting whose needs are satisfied by your city's facilities.
5. Make sure that city agencies work with together. The CVB professional needs to spend almost as much time with the heads of other city agencies as with his own staff. Visitors view an entire city, and when agencies work together you are building a basis for return business.
6 Contact organizations that have held meetings at convention sites in places similar to yours. People like variety, but often look for locations similar to places where they have held successful meetings in the past. Trade organization names with other cities that are similar to yours.
• Advise perspective convention organizers to work with local meeting planner who know the community well. These local planners want the out-of-town convention planner to be successful, and they have the first hand knowledge as to what to do and what to do. Having the help of locals also increases the community’s credibility.
• Discuss with the out 0of-town meeting planner his/her concepts of customer service. How do they want your community to handle an issue of bad service? Do they have specific requirements regarding security and safety? What liability issues need to be discussed before signing any contract? Should a mishap or negative situation occur how can damage control be accomplished?
• What are some of the special needs that the meeting has and can your community meet these needs? The United States (and the world) are very diverse places with special needs ranging from the physical to the philosophical. Before bidding on a convention or meeting know if you can provide such items as:
√ sensitivity to dietary laws and restrictions, √ sensitivity to medical needs of those attending the meeting, √ sensitivity to issues of crime and security, √ sensitivity to local customs and habits, √ sensitivity to the religious and cultural needs of attendees, √ the ability to provide bi-lingual or multi lingual services.
• Has your community and the proposed venue received tourism security certification? A tourism certified community can tell potential MCPs that s/he has chosen a locale that offers a well-run meeting, good service, and a special tourism experience in a safe and secure environment.