Service With a Smile

The steep drop in travel in 2002 has acted as a "double whammy" for many destinations around the country. The reason: Last year's room-tax revenues determine this year's budget for many convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs). So not only did hotels and other suppliers suffer in most cities last year, but the ability of cities' bureaus to serve convention and trade-show groups is now diminished because the CVBs have less financial backing.

Layoffs have become more frequent among bureau staffs, says Michael Gehrisch, president and CEO of the Washington D.C.-based International Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus, but sales departments have been spared, because competition has made them more important than ever. "The current climate has brought about a situation where markets that don't traditionally compete against each other are now competing," he explains.

But will starving bureaus begin charging for services they've previously offered for free? Gehrisch sees no new fees coming, but he does admit that CVBs may look to "bump up fees on what they currently charge for [registration, housing, etc.]."

In any case, bureaus are making the most of what's already on the books. At the St. Louis CVC, resources have been shifted to better serve current clients to guarantee repeat business, and this effort includes coordinating pre-con briefings with bars, restaurants, taxi companies, and even the light-rail system. "If our vendor community knows who to expect, and when to expect them," says CVC president Carole Moody, "we can give groups excellent service and they'll want to return soon."