Visit Anchorage once helped coordinate the largest train charter in the state's history for an association meeting // © Alaska Railroad/Visit Anchorage
Every meeting planner knows that a truly successful meeting is not the result of a single person, but many. Enlisting the help of a local or national convention and visitors bureau (CVB) or destination marketing organization (DMO) can have a huge impact. But there are a number of areas where these organizations can be helpful in ways that planners might not realize, elevating an event from average to extraordinary. Here are some cases in which a DMO really made a difference.
In 2009, an association meeting of more than 3,000 attendees had only an hour (during rush hour) to get from the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre to the Raffles Hotel for a keynote address delivered by Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. To help them get there safely and on time, the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau (SECB) worked with roadside authorities and police to time traffic lights so that all attendees could make it in time. In the end, the SECB succeeded in getting more than 60 buses through traffic.
The Fishing League Worldwide is bringing its annual event to Columbia, SC this August, with a total of 80,000 attendees. To accommodate the crowds, Kim Jamieson, director of communications for the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism, says the CVB is working with the city to shut down a portion of its streets for the entire weekend.
Sourcing at Its Strangest
Visit Orlando has seen its share of medical meetings and, as such, many odd requests. “An American urological association asked for pig livers and pig kidneys for some of their clinics when they meet here in May,” said Jennifer Juergens, manager of global convention communications for Visit Orlando. “Our staffer actually called her biology teacher from 30 years ago to find out where to get them.” Other strange requests include chicken breasts for a gynecology group and human heads for the American Neurological Association.
A little less extreme but still out of the ordinary are some of the things that the Swiss Convention & Incentive Bureau (SCIB) has done to help its clients. “We’ve gotten clothing for delegates who don’t have appropriate mountain apparel, gone shopping with those who’ve lost their luggage, and even got the latest mountain bike models for attendees who wanted to go for a ride at 5 a.m. before their conference started,” says Caroline Pidroni, director of sales and marketing for the SCIB. “The list is endless … we’d do anything to please the clients — I even did a bungee jump once,” she adds.
Answering the Call of the Wild
Some meetings require participation from the animal kingdom. At Visit Orlando, Juergens says that the president of one organization requested to ride into his general session on a camel. Visit Orlando found one at a nearby religious theme park, the Holy Land Experience. Another CEO, she says, asked for an owl to sit on his shoulder.
At Visit Anchorage, Julie Dodds, director of convention sales, has seen numerous requests related to dog sledding. “We’ve had several groups that have had presidents and CEOs brought into general sessions with a team of sled dogs — using a sled on wheels usually. That’s definitely a unique entrance.”
Dealing With Heads of State
When more than 5,000 Chinese insurance professionals gathered in Kuala Lumpur last August for the annual International Dragon Award (IDA) conference, they had a very specific request for the Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB): to have three high-ranking officials as speakers — the mayor of Kuala Lumpur, the minister of tourism and culture, and the prime minister.
“IDA originally wanted all three to speak at the same event, but protocol dictates that when a higher-ranking official is present, the other dignitaries will not speak,” Ho Yoke Ping, general manager of business events for MyCEB explains. “We suggested each speak at three separate events instead. It was back-to-back managing of VIPs, and we made sure that everyone understood the protocol, and safety and security measures.”
In Monaco, the Monaco Government Tourist Office (MGTO) also sees its share of royal requests.“We’ve helped lots of different organizations with questions related to royal protocol,” says Cindy Hoddeson, director of meeting and incentive sales for the MGTO. “A lot of people ask about inviting Prince Albert. Nothing is guaranteed, but, in some cases, we’ve succeeded,” she says. “A lot of that entails writing letters to the Royal Family and we often help planners with that.”
Making a Difference That Matters
CVBs and DMOs are also invaluable partners when it comes to finding the right corporate social responsibility (CSR) organizations or activities for a particular meeting. From engaging in apple picking, to helping the hungry in Bucks County, PA, to working with Habitat for Humanity in Liverpool, England, the variety of CSR activities for meeting groups is huge.
In Virginia Beach, VA, CSR is a big part of what the Virginia Beach CVB not only promotes, but in which it also actively participates. Visiting planners are always invited to participate in a CSR activity, and the CVB has a dedicated CSR website. “We really wanted to be very involved in the Give Back program,” says Al Hutchinson, vice president of convention sales and marketing. “We didn’t want to just talk about it.” He adds that the CVB works with each meeting client individually to determine the best CSR opportunities for that group.
Nonprofits such as Orlando-based Freedom Ride also benefit from assistance from CVBs, says Executive Director Marianne Gray. Last year, the nonprofit, which provides therapeutic horseback riding for children with disabilities, was introduced to Zurich-based ABB, a Swiss electrical engineering company, through Visit Orlando. “ABB was looking for a nonprofit to partner with for their annual meeting, and they went to Visit Orlando asking for ‘something different,’” explains Gray. “Visit Orlando mentioned us and they wound up inviting us to their conference, and giving us a total of $57,000 in donations,” she says. “We might be well known in the Orlando area, but ABB would never have known about us without Visit Orlando.”
Pitching That Destination
Monaco’s Hoddeson says it’s also not uncommon for her team to support planners during the proposal stage. “We can help them present ideas to their clients or the meeting owners by creating storyboards, or sending gift baskets for those presentations. Sometimes, we’ll even accompany them during the presentations.”
The Great Train Heist
At Visit Anchorage, Dodds and her staff coordinated the largest train charter in Alaskan history for more than 1,600 attendees from the International Association of Movers, who requested a private charter aboard the Alaska Railroad.
Speeding Through Immigration
When attendees arrive in a foreign country, one of the last things they want to do is wait in immigration and customs. In Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) provides dedicated immigration arrival counters for meeting attendees from large MICE groups. “This service has been arranged a number of times, and will be utilized for the upcoming International Trademark Association convention in May, which is expected to attract more than 10,000 delegates,” says James LaValle, manager of corporate events for HKTB’s Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong.
Finding the Right Meeting Destination
National DMOs can also help planners find specific cities that align well with their organizations’ values or goals. “It’s when planners work with their CVB contacts to find destinations that link to their industries, business strategies, and goals,” explains Laura d’Elsa, regional director, U.S./Canada, for the German Convention Bureau (GCB). “These kinds of strategic connections help you tap into existing locations and hands-on learning opportunities, unique expert speakers, and out-of-the-box experiences.” In Germany, the GCB has “grouped” the entire country into specific expertise hubs that cater to a variety of industries, such as tech, medical research, and aerospace.
A recent example of this is when Cologne hosted the 26th Planetary Congress of Association of Space Explorers in July 2013. The gathering of 90 astronauts and cosmonauts, together with their families, amounted to a citywide event, says Friederike Wuetscher of the German Aerospace Center, which helped to host the event. “The CVB helped us find places, and communicated between the different Cologne companies to promote the event,” Wuetscher says. “We were so happy that the CVB donated a great variety of gifts to welcome the astronauts.” She was also surprised with the CVB’s level of involvement. “They arranged a photo shoot on the grounds of the European Space Agency where they created a mockup of the international space station.”
Read more about the pros and cons or working with membership versus non-membership DMOs here. Read about how to choose the right CSR program for your meeting group here.